Marriage vs Cohabitation – The Myth of the Common Law Marriage

6 June 2023
2 minutes
Family & Matrimonial

In recent times, many couples are choosing to live together rather than to marry. A common misconception among cohabiting couples is that by living together they are considered to be their partner’s common law husband or wife, and that the law will protect them in the event the relationship breaks down in a similar way to a marriage breakdown. However, in reality, cohabiting couples have far fewer rights and responsibilities to their partner than those who are married and the legal remedies are starkly different.

For example, cohabiting relationships may not automatically inherit anything unless a Will is made, whereas those in a marriage will do as their spouse is their next of kin. Cohabiting partners also cannot access their partner’s bank account if their partner was to die, whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the remaining balance. There are also more rights to those who are married in relation to housing, tax, pension, inheritance and financial support.

There are ways cohabiting couples may choose to protect themselves including what is known as a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a document that sets out what will happen to assets, finances and the family if you and your partner should separate. It is designed to protect both parties from legal issues and costs that may arise. Consideration should also be given to placing property into joint names to protect the financially weaker spouse and to make a will.

It is advisable to speak to an experienced Family Law solicitor if you are considering entering into a cohabiting relationship. MKB Law has one of the leading family law practices in Northern Ireland, often representing high net worth individuals who are married, in cohabitating relationships, child arrangements, wills and property.

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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