The ‘common-law marriage’ myth

Posted 04 January 2018 by Dawn Pennell

Dawn Pennell, Associate at Capron & Helliwell, considers the ‘common-law marriage’ myth

Society changes and according to the Office for National Statistics in November this year cohabiting couples have become the fastest growing family type in the UK with the number of unmarried couples living together more than doubling from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

Family law group Resolution commissioned a ComRes poll of over 2,000 British adults and the results have highlighted the misunderstanding of many cohabiting couples of the law in this area.  It showed that 27 per cent of Britons wrongly believe that after living together for more than two years unmarried couples have similar rights to married couples if they break up with 37 per cent thinking they would benefit from what is known as ‘common-law marriage’.

Clients are generally shocked when I explain that the reality is that what you are legally entitled to if a marriage breaks down will be very different to your entitlement if a cohabiting relationship comes to an end.
Two major differences include an unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make a claim in their own right for property, maintenance or pension sharing and cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support one another but married couples have a legal duty to do so.

At Capron & Helliwell we recognise that it can be an emotional and stressful time when any relationship breaks down and that uncertainty about legal entitlement can make the situation feel even worse.  Early legal advice may help to reduce those anxieties by creating some certainty.

At Capron & Helliwell we offer an initial fixed fee 30 minute appointment on family law matters and fixed fees for undefended divorces in suitable cases.  Please contact us or see our website for more information.  To book an appointment please contact Tina Phillippo on 01692-581231 or email her at


Dawn Pennell is a Chartered Legal Executive, Collaborative Lawyer and as Associate at Capron & Helliwell where she deals with family law matters.

This article aims to supply general information but it is not intended to constitute advice.  Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead.  However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy.  Always seek specific advice. 

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