What is common law marriage?

Providing for your partner outside of marriage

Plenty of couples assume that if they've lived together for a certain number of years, perhaps share children or a mortgage, that they'll have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners.

But this isn't the case in the UK. And when relationships end or one partner dies, people often find themselves in unexpected financial situations.

However, there are still ways to protect your family finances if you choose not to get married.

Does common law marriage exist in the UK?

What is common law marriage

Common law marriage is the idea that cohabiting couples have the same legal rights as couples who are married or in a civil partnership.

Contrary to popular belief, common law marriage doesn’t exist in the UK (although in Scotland, cohabiting couples do have a few basic rights if their relationship comes to an end).

While you might provide details of your family finances for things like credit agreements or government benefits – which would include yours and your partner's income – cohabitees aren't under any legal requirement to maintain one another financially.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

If you do want to protect your finances as a couple, you might want to consider a cohabitation agreement.

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that details the entitlements of each partner if the relationship breaks down.

If you're comfortable to do so, you can complete a cohabitation agreement without a solicitor – you'll find plenty of templates online to help you. But it's probably worth getting some legal advice before entering into an agreement.

Should I make a will?

If you aren’t married and one of you were to pass away, the partner left behind wouldn't automatically have any right to property or assets left behind (such as your home).

Making a will is a good way to make sure that your partner is considered as part of any inheritance you leave.

Again, while you can find plenty of free online resources to help you write a will, it's often best to seek legal advice.

Should I get life insurance?

Another way of ensuring your partner and dependants are provided for if the worst were to happen is by taking out a life insurance policy. 

There are a variety of options available and it’s worth doing some additional research before taking out a policy, but generally speaking, life insurance will pay out a lump sum if you die – helping your partner maintain your joint finances after you've gone.

You can name your partner or family as a beneficiary of your life insurance. Or place the policy in a Trust which will give you extra control over who benefits from any payout.

If you're unsure about which step is right for you, seek independent legal and financial advice.

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