Cohabitating unmarried couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK but a large proportion of people are unaware of their legal rights within these arrangements. Almost half (46%) of people mistakenly believe that cohabitating couples form a “common law marriage” and enjoy the same protection as married couples, according to a new survey by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). That figure has remained static since 2005, despite a huge growth in the number of cohabitating couples in the last 20 years.
Of those surveyed by NatCen, the knowledge gap was widest among cohabitating couples with children, with 55% believing common law marriage exists. In reality, common law marriage – a term often used to describe unmarried couples who live together – grants couples “no general legal status”. Couples don’t have the same rights as those who are married or in civil partnerships when the relationship breaks down – and it’s women cohabitants who often bear the brunt. Women are more likely to stall their careers while raising children, become financially dependent on partners and end up being the primary caregiver for children, for instance.
“Arizona does not recognize common law marriages either. We are overwhelmingly not alone in this country in that category. The hard part is trying to draw a line between one cohabitating couple and another. The difficulty in drawing that line is the likely reason so many jurisdictions have moved away from it.
“I certainly understand the public policy behind the concept of common law marriage, but I don’t see it being recognized here any time soon.”
~ Kaine Fisher