I saw a client today whose situation reminded me of the plight faced by so many people in England and Wales.

The facts:  She has been living with her partner for 18 years.  They agreed that she would put her career on the back burner so that they could try for children.  They were lucky to have a boy, now 16 and a girl, now 14.  The home they have shared for the past 17 years is in her partner’s sole name. He has told her he sees little future in their relationship so she sought advice from me.

Her situation is faced by many of the 3.3 million cohabiting families; the fastest growing family type in the UK.  Her difficulty is that unless their relationship can get back on track and they decide to marry she may not be entitled to anything in her own right, whereas the starting point for her on any divorce is an equal division of the matrimonial pot.

There is no doubt that the law in England and Wales is outdated; discriminatory and can produce unfair results often for those who are often the most vulnerable.  Campaigns for reform date back more than 30 years but have never made the statute book and in the current political climate are unlikely to do so.

She is unlikely to have a successful claim under property law so her only available option at the moment is under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 which allows her to apply to stay in the family home but only until her daughter turns 18 or finishes at University – at which time she will essentially be homeless.  She can apply to the Court for income as the children’s carer but in my experience is likely to receive little, if any, benefit from doing so.

The moral of the story – common law marriage is as mythical as the Loch Ness monster.  There is no law that adequately protects cohabiting couples.  If you are one of the 3.3 million in a co-habiting relationship be aware.

For advice on your situation in the event of separation from your partner, please contact Farleys’ family law department on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.