Well if you believe in unicorns then you may believe in Common Law Marriage – but seriously despite a common myth IT DOES NOT EXIST and indeed never has.

Almost half of the public believe that common law marriage exists. These figures underline why it is essential that if a couple is to separate they obtain expert legal advice.

What is Common Law Marriage?

Almost half of people in England and Wales mistakenly believe that unmarried couples who live together have a common law marriage and enjoy the same rights as couples that are legally married. This is fundamentally untrue – they do not, in fact they have very little ‘rights’.

The findings from this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, reveal that 46 per cent of the public are under the impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage. The figure has remained largely unchanged over the last fourteen years (47 per cent in 2005) despite a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples. In contrast, only 41 per cent of respondents rightly said that cohabiting couples are not in a common law marriage.

This is a frightening statistic given the increase in cohabitation and the dire consequences for some couples if they place reliance on this myth of common law marriage.

Responses to the question, commissioned by the University of Exeter and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, show that people are significantly more likely to believe in common law marriage when children come into the equation. Fifty-five per cent of households with children think that common law marriage exists; only 41 per cent of households without any children do so.

Cohabiting couples (48 per cent) are as likely as married couples to believe in common law marriage (49 per cent). But only 39 per cent of singles are of that opinion.

So that’s almost half of the population believe in Common Law marriage and indeed in my daily working life I am posed that question time and time again.  A lack of a valid marriage can often mean severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children.

So how can you protect yourself – the answer is complex and it is essential you seek expert legal advice, preferably before the cohabitation commences, or during the relationship and at least in contemplation of separation. Often agreements can be entered into to avoid the uncertainty that the breakdown of a relationship could cause. In the long run it can save a lot of heartache and worry.

Farleys family law team can provide expert advice on the rights of cohabiting couples. Get in touch today on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.