Worrying gaps in public knowledge of cohabitation laws

Lingering myths are a cause for concern

Many millions of Britons are being put at considerable risk because of lingering myths surrounding cohabitation.

Resolution, the family law association, has revealed that a significant proportion of the UK’s population don’t realise that cohabitees actually have precious few legal rights.

The poll of 2,000 adults, commissioned by Resolution to mark their Cohabitation Awareness Week, found that two thirds of respondents didn’t know that common law marriage is not recognised as a concept in England and Wales.

And almost four out of five of those who took part in the survey said they would support making better provision for unmarried couples, who at present can face significant hardship in the event that their relationship comes to an end.

Resolution chairman Nigel Shepherd said: “[The] poll shows that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through ‘common-law marriage’.

“This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect themselves.

“In many cases, this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more likely to have taken time off work to raise children.”

In a news release yesterday, the association highlighted the case of ‘Yvonne’ – who had five children with her partner of 17 years.

“I was shocked to find out… that I was entitled to nothing when the relationship broke down,” she said.

“I was no longer just dealing with a break up – but with the fallout of not being legally entitled to share in any of what I thought were our joint assets.

“I had given up work to raise our children and fill the ‘traditional’ role of mother and wife, as many do, but didn’t know that without being married or having a cohabitation agreement I was completely unprotected. Now, when my youngest finishes university I will have to move out of the family home, but I have no independent funds and no pension.”