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Millions of couples at severe financial risk due to ‘common-law marriage' myth

Poll, marking Cohabitation Awareness Week, underlines couples’ misunderstanding of law

Millions of unmarried couples living together are unaware that they are at severe financial risk as a result of the current legal system, Resolution has warned.

A poll of over 2,000 British adults, conducted by ComRes and commissioned by Resolution, to mark Cohabitation Awareness Week, has highlighted the misunderstanding of many cohabiting couples of the law in this area.

The poll found that:

Statistics published by the Office for National Statistics in November 2017 revealed that the cohabiting couple is the second largest family type and the fastest growing, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. This, said the ONS, may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marry, or to cohabit before marriage, particularly at younger ages.

Resolution chair Nigel Shepherd says the law needs to change, as the poll results show it "is falling desperately behind the times".

"[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.
"The Government must listen to the public, legal professionals and a growing number of politicians who all agree that we need reform to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples should they separate.

"Society has changed – it's time for our laws to catch up."

For the poll, click here. For a letter calling for greater rights for cohabitants, signed on behlf of Resolution, the Bar Council , the ALC and others, click here.