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The Myths of Common Law Marriage

By: Emma Jones - Updated: 17 Feb 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Cohabitation Cohabiting Common Law

Millions of couples live together without getting married and many believe that after a number of years together they become 'common law' husband and wife and are granted the same rights as married couples. Unfortunately this isn't the case and can lead to a lot of complications and heartache if one of them dies or they decide to separate.

Common law marriage is actually a myth and there is no such thing that carries any legal rights or responsibilities. Often people don't bother to check out the legal issues as it seems unromantic or distrusting but it is important to make sure you and your partner are covered in unpredictable circumstances.

Tax

If you are married then you are given certain tax exemptions but if you are living together as a couple then you are treated as two individual people in the eyes of the taxman. This means that you will be liable for some hefty taxes if you want to sell assets or leave them to each other when one of you dies. Captial Gains tax and inheritance tax are the two that apply and although you won't be able to completely avoid them, seek advice from an accountant about ways to lower your losses.

Pensions

Pensions haven't exactly been reliable anyway but if you are a cohabiting couple then you are in a vulnerable position. If you have a pension through work or a scheme that pays out to spouses in the event of a death then they rarely recognise live in partners. Also, if you separate you will have no right to a percentage of your partner's pension, however long you have been together.

Separation

If you are married and get divorced then you have to divide your assets and are likely to be able to claim a proportion of the house and investments, even if they are in your spouse's name. However, if you are cohabiting then these laws don't automatically apply. If the house is in your partner's name, regardless of whatever contributions you may have made, then you will not be given a penny. However unromantic it may seem, it is important to be clear about these issues from the start and draw up a cohabitation agreement stating who gets what so you are both happy and covered.

Wills

Many people assume that if you have been 'common law' husband and wife foe many years then the assets will automatically be transferred to you on your partner's death. Remember though, in the eyes of the law there is no such thing as common law marriage and therefore you have no rights to your partner's estate. Unless you draw up a will that clarifies who gets what then any inheritance will be passed on to the next of kin.

Cohabitation agreement

To make sure that your partner does not get left high and dry if you die or that you both are treated fairly in a separation, it is important to draw up a cohabitation agreement. It may feel like you are tempting fate and lacking romance, but there is nothing romantic about the law or being left without and money or a place to live. There are online forms you can download or contact your lawyer for advice.

Even if you live as husband and wife, unless you have that little piece of paper then the law does not recognise your commitment. It is a myth that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples and it is essential that you protect yourself and your partner by making plans and legal documents.

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[Add a Comment]
Betty - Your Question:
My aunt recently passed away and had a partner of over 30 years. Her son is becoming a pain and I would like to know where her partner stands she did leave a will where she expected her partner to remain in the house, her son is not allowed to sell it without her partners permission however her son is making things extremely difficult for him. As a family we want to look out for him but have no idea where he stands or if indeed he has any standing at all?The first question her son asked after her passing was where is mum's savings book!!! Which shows you what sort of person he is, that aside she left the money set aside to pay the day to day running cost's of the house for her partner, it's all very confusing any advise would be greatly appreciated.

Our Response:
I think in this case a solicitor would be able to advise best regarding the Will and the behaviour of the son, especially if he is intimidating his mother's partner.
RelationshipExpert - 17-Feb-16 @ 2:42 PM
My aunt recently passed away and had a partner of over 30 years.Her son is becoming a pain and I would like to know where her partner stands she did leave a will where she expected her partner to remain in the house, her son is not allowed to sell it without her partners permission however her son is making things extremely difficult for him. As a family we want to look out for him but have no idea where he stands or if indeed he has any standing at all? The first question her son asked after her passing was where is mum's savings book!!! Which shows you what sort of person he is, that aside she left the money set aside to pay the day to day running cost's of the house for her partner, it's all very confusing any advise would be greatly appreciated.
Betty - 17-Feb-16 @ 10:03 AM
Lainey - Your Question:
Hi I hav living with a guy for 7/8 years has no been an easy ride as hisprevious wife was a ;esbian and henever got over it. Moving on we jointly own a proeprty in Spain but live in the UK Pete actually owes me 95k as I helped him before the carve up of his families esate which took years and years and still on going.Pete has a number of flats he recently He recently put a flat on the marker for 500000 plus anothe 7000000 so not short of a bob or too I want to put a charge of my 95k on the property so I get back wht is owed to me I have written documents from Mr Goring Please please help me I alone in Spain and penniless.

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. Your only recourse would be to seek legal advice, as it is beyond our remit to give direct legal advice, especially if you are based in a different country as we are not knowlegeable of Spanish property law. If you have evidence the money was yours, then you should be able to claim through the courts. If you can't afford the legal fees, there may be a solicitor who will claim a fee once the case has completed.
RelationshipExpert - 8-Feb-16 @ 10:16 AM
Hi I hav living with a guy for 7/8 years has no been an easy ride as hisprevious wife was a ;esbian and henever got over it . Moving on we jointly own a proeprty in Spain but live in the UK Pete actually owes me 95k as I helped him before the carve up of his families esate which took years and years and still on going .Pete has a number of flats he recently He recently put a flat on the marker for 500000 plus anothe 7000000 so not short of a bob or too I want to put a charge of my 95k on the property so I get back wht is owed to me I have written documents from Mr Goring Please please help me I alone in Spain and penniless..
Lainey - 7-Feb-16 @ 4:19 AM
@mags - no because you are not married. He might even have a claim on your house if he was paying the mortgage or contributing while living with you, especially if it was over 17 years. But what he earns is his own business.
Neil - 7-Jan-15 @ 12:59 PM
I have been living with my partner for 17 years in my house during which time he ran a successful business,bought & sold 5 houses, he rented 1 house to a few Tennant's intermittently over several years for a considerable rent. Our relationship has now ended and he has moved in to one of his own houses, he says that I have no financial claim on him or his assets, I argued that this was unfair as he was only able to conduct his business & property buying/selling because he was living under my roof. Is there anything I can do about the situation as he has made himself a lot of money whilst I provided him with a home & everything he needed ?
mags - 31-Dec-14 @ 2:49 PM
I have a partner of 17 years, and 12 year old son who carries my surname. Over the last several months our relationship has deteriorated, with my partner accusing me, of not being good with money, and of being an alcoholic (which I am not). The property is in my name and I have paid the mortgage. My partner has never worked, so the only monies she has are from my wage, tax credits and child benefits. In the last few days I have had to move out of my home to live with my parents, until something can be sortedout, as the atmosphere was very tense. My partner has told me I can only see my son three days a week, and I must get her approval before I take him anywhere. Questions: Can I make her move out of my home? I have not made a will.If I do can I omit my partner as a beneficiary? (my partner is wanting me to make a will with her as a beneficiary). Has my partner any rights to my property and / or assets? Can my partner restrict access to my son when there has been nothing that would say he was at risk? Thank you
Fruitbat46 - 30-Jan-14 @ 10:39 PM
My brother died today. He had a girlfriend of 10 years, they lived together as man and wife. I am in the process of checking whether he made a Will, but I strongly suspect he didn't. He did have an NHS pension (the provisions of which I unsure about i.e. a percentage of which would go to a wife/children on death). If he didn't make a Will (he had no other assets e.g. property) would she benefit from this pension as his "common law wife"? Or was she right when she said a few days ago "I have no legal rights, I'm only his girlfriend"..?
kev1888 - 13-Oct-13 @ 10:10 PM
thanks for setting the worlds to right but the law changesplease could you up date your site so you dont give the wrong answer to someone else you up dated your site 2 years ago many thankandy
andy - 20-Aug-12 @ 9:20 PM
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