Couples mistakenly believe they have the same legal and financial rights and protections as married couples, say a coalition of legal bodies, including the Bar Council, the Law Society, Resolution and Relate. The government is being urged to provide legal protection to the millions of cohabiting couples, as evidence emerges of an increase in the number of civil partnerships and deathbed weddings.
The number of families formed of unmarried, cohabiting couples has increased exponentially in recent years. According to the Office for National Statistics, the figure has doubled to 3.3 million over the last 20 years.
The charitable coalition wrote an open letter in The Guardian encouraging a change in the law to reflect the ongoing changes in society and afford cohabiting couples with greater, basic legal protections. Recent surveys have showed as many as two thirds of cohabiting couples are unaware that there is no such thing as “common law marriage” in England and Wales, mistakenly believing they have the same legal and financial rights and protections as married couples.
The coalition also hope the government will raise public awareness of the lack of protections in place for couples that resided together, in turn challenging the “common law marriage” myth. Only by understanding they are at potentially grave risk, will many of these couples take adequate steps to protect themselves and their families, if they separate or the cohabitee dies.