Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. In England and Wales only people who are married, whether of the same sex or not, or those in civil partnerships can rely on the laws about dividing up finances when they divorce or dissolve their marriage.
The assumption by many unmarried couples in a long standing relationship that they have acquired rights similar to those of married couples is wrong. This common misconception needs to be addressed particularly as for many years official statistics show numbers of marriages in decline as more people choose to cohabit (living together without being married).
Many people also believe that by having a child together they acquire legal rights, whether married, in a civil partnership, or not. This is also not true. Although there is scope to apply to court for financial provision when there are children, such orders are made for the benefit of the child and only couples who are married or in a civil partnership acquire legal rights and responsibilities in relation to each other.
If you do want to protect your finances as a couple, you might want to consider a cohabitation agreement.
A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that details the entitlements of each partner if the relationship breaks down.
If you’re comfortable to do so, you can complete a cohabitation agreement without a solicitor – you’ll find plenty of templates online to help you. But it’s probably worth getting some legal advice before entering into an agreement.