Saturday 18 August is the most common day in 2018 to tie the knot in the UK. However, since the early 1970s, the number of people actually getting married has steadily decreased, dropping a further 3.4% last year.
Recent figures reveal that non-married cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Between 1996 and 2016, numbers more than doubled from 1.5 million to 3.3 million. Cohabiting couples account for around 17.5 per cent of families in the UK and this is set to rise further.
Alarmingly, it is estimated that over 60% of people in the UK in this type of relationship mistakenly believe they have a 'common law marriage' which provides them with various rights and protections regarding finances etc should they separate. In fact, the law does not recognise the concept of a "common law marriage" in the UK.
In the UK if an unmarried couple breaks up, they do not have automatic rights to claim financial support from each other, even if that support is needed. This is the same regardless of how long they have been together or whether they have children. Other differences from legally married couples include:
- Should one partner die the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything - unless the couple jointly own property.
- An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing.
- Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner's bank account if they die.
- Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially.
There is no sign that the law in this area is going to change soon. In the meantime where couples are able to agree what their financial arrangements should be, both during their relationship and in the event that the separate, they can confirm this by way of a "Living Together Agreement". They should also make sure that they have Wills , as the surviving co-habitee will not be able to rely on the rile of intestacy to protect them.
For more information on Living Together Agreements (also known as Cohabitation Agreements or Declaration of Trust) please contact Anne Deller in our Family Department.