The myth of common law marriage

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With recent rises in divorce rates it may come as no surprise that co-habitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with over 3 million people living in this type of relationship.

However, contrary to popular myth there is no such thing as ‘common-law marriage’, leaving cohabiting partners with very limited legal protection should their relationship end.

As members of Resolution, the family law organisation which campaigns for improvements to the family justice system, we are raising awareness of this for local couples currently in a cohabitation relationship.

We have produced a free ‘guide to drafting a cohabitation agreement’, available for download which contains an overview of the benefits of Cohabitation Agreements, sometimes referred to as a Living Together Agreement, and what they entail.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

This is a written document often signed as a Deed in front of witnesses usually dealing with:

  • Who owns what at the time of the Agreement and in what proportion.
  • What financial arrangements you have decided to make while you are living together and
  • How property, assets and income should be divided if you should split up.

Where the Agreement is properly drawn up, the terms are reasonable and each of you has had separate independent legal advice on its effect, a court is more likely to uphold the Agreement in the event of a dispute.  It can also be prudent to include provisions that address potential future events, example the needs of any future children.

Similar to a Contract, this agreement sets out who owns what and how both joint and personal assets should be shared between partners. As well as the property itself, these include things like furniture, bank accounts, cars, children, pets and utility bills.

“There is no reason why cohabiting couples should not be afforded basic rights to protect both their financial and emotional investments. Agreements such as this can prevent any lengthy, distressing & expensive disputes from arising should one partner subsequently move out or if the relationship breaks down.”

When should you make a Cohabitation Agreement

It can be made any time whether you are about to start living together or if you have been doing so for many years.

Why should you make a Cohabitation Agreement

Unlike on divorce or civil partnership dissolution, there is no particular set of rules that automatically applies if you split up from someone you have been living with.

Living with someone for a certain period of time does not mean that you are automatically entitled to some financial support or to share their property after you split up.

Whilst there have been proposals to change the law the government has said it does not intend to do so at the moment.  This means that where a couple has not been married or in a civil partnership, sorting out disputes about property without an agreement can be expensive and take a long time.

A good Cohabitation Agreement/Living Together Agreement can mean that areas of potential dispute on separation are reduced or eliminated.

How we can help

  • We can see you and your partner to outline details of matters to be covered by such an Agreement.
  • We can draft the Agreement for your approval after taking detailed instructions from one of you who will stay with us as a client.
  • We will recommend that the other party seeks independent legal advice – we work with other lawyers locally and are happy to make an introduction

Read more about Cohabitation Agreements here:


Fixed Fee Services

We offer fixed fee Cohabitation Agreements/Living Together Agreements from £750 plus Vat.

You may wish to take advantage of our £99 fixed fee consultation to find out where you stand and what your options are. This gives you up to an hour with one of our family law specialists who can talk you through cohabitation agreements and how they can apply to your individual circumstances.

Contact Sonja Williams on 01284 701131 or email at law@burnettbarker.co.uk to find out more.