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Published On: February 8, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Common Law Partnerships: Myths Busted For UK-Based Couples 

What is a ‘Common Law Partner’?

In the United Kingdom, the term “common law partner” is frequently used to describe two people who live together as a couple, but are not legally married or in a civil partnership. However, the concept of a ‘common law partner’ or ‘common law marriage’ has no legal recognition in UK law.  

This means that, regardless of the length of the relationship or living situation, couples who live together do not enjoy the same rights and protections as those who are married or in a civil partnership. 

Couples in such relationships may share their lives closely, including raising children and owning property together. However, without the legal framework that marriage or civil partnership provides, their rights upon separation, or the death of a partner, can be significantly different and more limited. 

It is a common misconception that living together for a certain period grants legal status similar to being married — this is not the case in the UK. The lack of legal recognition for common law partnerships can lead to complications, particularly in the areas of property rights, finances, and inheritance, where assumptions about mutual rights often do not align with the reality of the law.  


Comparison of Legal Aspects: Civil Partnerships vs Cohabiting Couples (common law partners)

Category Civil Partnerships Cohabiting Couples (Common Law Partnership)
Legal Recognition Formally recognised by law since 2004 for same-sex couples and extended to opposite-sex couples in 2019. Requires a registration process to be legally valid. Offers a legal status like marriage, with defined rights and responsibilities. No formal legal recognition in UK law. Refers to couples living together without being married or in a civil partnership. No registration process or legal framework governing the relationship.
Legal Rights and Protections Provides legal rights and protections similar to those of married couples, including property rights, inheritance rights, pension benefits, tax advantages, and next-of-kin rights in medical decisions. Lacks automatic legal protections regarding property disputes, financial support upon separation, inheritance if one partner dies without a will, and parental responsibilities and rights.
Steps for Protection Automatically receive legal protections upon entering the partnership. Must take specific legal steps to protect their interests, such as drafting a cohabitation agreement, making a will, arranging property ownership, and explicitly handling financial matters.


Importance of Legal Advice

For both married couples/civil partners and couples living together, obtaining legal advice is crucial to navigate the complexities of their legal rights and protections. Anthony Gold offers specialised family and relationships legal services to help partners understand their position and take appropriate legal steps.


Myths around ‘Common Law Partnerships’ in the UK

How long do you have to live together to be in a common law marriage?

A prevalent myth is that couples become ‘common law spouses’ after living together for a certain period. However, in the UK, no amount of time living together grants a couple the legal status of being married. This misconception can lead to misunderstandings about the rights and protections available to cohabiting couples. For those considering living together or already doing so, exploring cohabitation and living together agreements can provide clarity and legal security for both partners. 


Do partners in a long-term relationship have the same legal rights as married couples in the UK?

Many believe that long-term cohabiting couples acquire rights similar to those of married couples. However, the law treats cohabiting couples differently from those who are married or in a civil partnership, particularly regarding property, finances, and inheritance. Cohabiting partners may have limited legal protections, making it crucial to understand your legal position. 


Does living together in a property automatically entitle both partners to share ownership or proceeds if the property is sold?

Property ownership and rights to proceeds from a sale depend on the legal ownership of the property and any agreements between the partners. Simply living together does not guarantee an automatic share in the property or its sale proceeds. Legal documentation, such as a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement, is essential to protect each partner’s interests. For more detailed guidance, you may need to consider getting legal advice on property rights and cohabitation agreements. 


Can one partner claim ongoing financial support from the other after separation, even if they were never married?

In the absence of a marriage or civil partnership, the legal framework for financial support after separation is significantly more limited. Unlike married couples and civil partners, where one partner can often claim spousal maintenance, cohabiting partners generally do not have the same entitlement. However, there are exceptions, particularly when it comes to arrangements for the support of children. For those navigating separation, exploring divorce and separation services can offer critical insights and assistance in understanding your rights and securing fair arrangements. 


Do cohabiting partners (common law partners) automatically have the same parental rights as married couples in the UK?

Parental rights are not automatically conferred upon cohabiting partners in the same way they are to married couples. For instance, a father who is not married to the mother of his child does not automatically have parental responsibility, unless he is named on the birth certificate (for births registered from December 1, 2003, in England and Wales), through a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, or by obtaining a parental responsibility order from a court. This distinction underscores the importance of understanding and legally formalising parental responsibilities, especially for cohabiting couples. Legal advice from experts can be invaluable in these situations. 


Do cohabiting partners (common law partners) automatically inherit each other’s assets if one dies without a will in the UK?

The simple answer is no. Cohabiting partners do not automatically inherit each other’s assets if one partner dies without a will, under the rules of intestacy in the UK. This can result in significant financial and emotional hardship for the surviving partner, especially if they were financially dependent on the deceased partner. To ensure that your partner inherits your assets, it is crucial to make a will. Making a will is a straightforward process that can provide peace of mind and security for both partners, detailing exactly how you wish your assets to be distributed after your death. For guidance and assistance in making a will, Anthony Gold’s will-making services offer comprehensive support to ensure your wishes are clearly articulated and legally binding. 


What is a cohabitation contract or cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation contract or cohabitation agreement also known as a living together agreement, is a legal document that cohabiting partners can create to outline the arrangement of their financial affairs and property ownership while they live together. This contract can include details on how bills are split, the ownership of individual and joint assets, and arrangements regarding children, among other things. It provides a clear framework for managing financial matters and can help prevent disputes in the event of separation. 


Are cohabitation agreements legally binding?

Cohabitation agreements are not automatically legally binding, but are influential for the court. The court still retains the discretion to order a different outcome. However, the existence of a cohabitation agreement increases the likelihood of your agreement being upheld, if properly drafted and executed. 

For such an agreement to be enforceable and upheld by the court in the event of a future disagreement, the terms of the agreement must be fair, both parties must have entered into it voluntarily, and each party should seek independent legal advice before signing. This ensures that both partners understand their rights and the implications of the agreement. 


How does cohabitation affect separation?

Cohabitation significantly impacts the process and outcome of separation, primarily because cohabiting partners do not have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners, especially concerning financial support, property division, and children’s arrangements. Here’s how cohabitation affects separation: 

  • Property and Financial Arrangements: Upon separation, assets are generally divided according to ownership rather than need. Without a cohabitation agreement and/or declaration of trust, one partner may be left in a precarious financial position, particularly if they have no legal ownership of the home they shared. 
  • Children’s Arrangements: Decisions about where the children will live and the financial provisions for their upbringing must be agreed upon. While the welfare of the children is paramount, the lack of formal legal obligations between cohabiting partners can complicate these arrangements. 
  • Financial Support: Unlike divorce, there is no automatic entitlement to financial support for one partner from the other after separation unless it is for the benefit of the children involved. This lack of financial protection underscores the importance of a cohabitation agreement or seeking legal advice to understand potential claims. 
  • Separation Process: The process of separation for cohabiting couples is typically less formal than divorce but can be legally complex, especially regarding joint finances and property.

Cohabitation agreements serve as a crucial tool for managing the separation process for cohabiting couples (common law partners), offering a pre-determined roadmap for addressing the various legal and financial issues that can arise. Given the complexities involved, seeking professional legal advice is highly recommended to ensure that both partners’ interests are protected as far as possible during and after separation. 

Anthony Gold’s expertise in cohabitation and living together agreements can guide partners through creating a document that reflects their wishes and complies with legal standards. Our experienced Family Law solicitors at Anthony Gold are always here to help. Book a free 20-minute consultation now. 


Should cohabiting couples (‘common law partners’) make a Will?

The simple answer is a resounding yes. For cohabiting couples (‘common law partners’), the act of making a will is not just a recommendation; it is a necessity to ensure that their wishes are respected and that their partner, along with any children, is provided for in the event of their death. 

Unlike married couples or civil partners, cohabiting couples (‘common law partners’) do not automatically inherit from each other’s estates under the rules of intestacy in the UK. This legal gap can lead to significant emotional and financial distress during an already challenging time. Therefore, a will is important for cohabiting couples for:


1. Protecting Your Partner

Without a will, the surviving partner may have no legal right to inherit the property they shared or any other assets of the deceased partner. This can result in the survivor facing eviction or financial instability. Making a will allows you to specify exactly how your assets should be distributed, ensuring that your partner is not left in a vulnerable position. 


2. Ensuring Children’s Welfare

For cohabiting couples (common law partners) with children, a will is crucial to safeguard the children’s future, specifying guardianship arrangements should both parents pass away and outlining any financial provisions for their upbringing. This foresight can provide stability and security for the children during an otherwise tumultuous period. 


3. Avoiding Legal Complications

The absence of a will can lead to complex legal challenges among surviving family members, which may not only strain family relations but also result in lengthy and costly legal proceedings. By making a will, you can pre-emptively address potential disputes and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, rather than being decided by the intestacy rules. 


4. Peace of Mind

Beyond the practical and legal benefits, making a will offers peace of mind, knowing that you have taken steps to protect the people who matter most to you. It is a thoughtful and responsible action that can alleviate potential stress and uncertainty for your loved ones. 

Given the significance of will-making for cohabiting couples (‘common law partners’), seeking professional advice is paramount. Anthony Gold’s will-making services can provide the necessary legal expertise to ensure that your will is valid, comprehensive, and reflective of your intentions. This professional guidance is invaluable in navigating the complexities of estate planning and ensuring that your wishes are clearly articulated and legally enforceable. 

In conclusion, the decision to make a will is an essential step in relationship planning, providing clear directives for the distribution of assets and offering protection and security for loved ones. It is a crucial component of a comprehensive legal strategy that addresses the unique vulnerabilities faced by cohabiting couples (‘common law partners’) in the UK. 


Call us on 020 7940 4060 to discuss your situation and how we can assist. You can also send us your queries at Our experienced Family Law solicitors at Anthony Gold are always here to help. Book a free 20-minute consultation now: 


Book a free 20-minute consultation with our Family Lawyers

* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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