Common Law Marriage – Myth or Fact

For some time, questions have circulated around whether or not a cohabiting couple have the same financial rights upon separation to that of a married couple and whether the length of the relationship can equate to what is often referred to as the “common law marriage”. Is this factual and legal terminology or merely a myth that has given rise to much confusion and uncertainty over the years.

The reality of the situation is very clear and quite simple. The ideology of a common law marriage is indeed a myth and a cohabiting couple, however long they have been together have no more rights than two people who are merely associates, friends or even strangers. More so therefore, is the need to ensure that if one is cohabiting, to protect your financial position as best as you possibly can. So how can this be done? Is there a way around this situation? The simple answer is – yes!

Taking the scenario where one person is living in the home that is in the sole name of the other. How does one ensure that in the event of the relationship coming to an end they are not evicted from their family home. The starting point is to have a clear, transparent, and open discussion with your partner. It is always advisable to set out your concerns and from there, in most cases, you will be able to ascertain a degree of certainty.

Secondly, document any common intention you reach with your partner. For example, if it the common intention is that the party who is unnamed on the title deeds is to have an interest in such property, then set this out in writing; whether this be by way of cohabitation agreement or statutory documentation – it’s always best to confirm this in some written form. Whilst a verbal agreement is considered binding by law, this could be a grey area in any future potential dispute so ultimately nothing can be clearer and more transparent than if it is set out in writing.

What happens if you can’t reach an agreement?

Then you need to seriously consider the situation clearly and whether you could find yourself in a vulnerable position in the future. Ask yourself whether any savings you have should be invested into your partner’s property, or whether you should keep this for a rainy day. Perhaps invest in a property of your own, funds permitting. The choice is yours; but the most important point to take away from this is that you could be at risk in the future should you not make appropriate provisions to ensure that your financial position is protected.

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