46%of people in England and Wales mistakenly believe that unmarried couples who live together have a “common law marriage”.
The British Social Attitudes Survey – carried out by The National Centre for Social Research – reveal that 46% of the population are under the wrong impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage and enjoy the same rights as couples that are legally married. This figure has remained largely unchanged over the last fourteen years, having been recorded at 47% in 2005, despite a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples. In contrast, only 41% of respondents rightly say cohabiting couples are not in a common law marriage.
Perhaps most alarmingly, responses to the question of whether common law marriages exist show that people are significantly more likely to believe in common law marriage where children are involved in the family unit. 55% of households with children think that common law marriage exists, whilst only 41% of households without any children do so.
Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy at the University of Exeter says, “Our data clearly show that almost half of us falsely believe that common law marriage exists in England and Wales when, in reality, cohabitation grants no general legal status to a couple. Cohabiting couples now account for the fastest growing type of household and the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children has more than doubled in the last decade. Yet whilst people’s attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation have shifted, policy has failed to keep up with the times.
The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial that we raise awareness of the difference between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage and any differences in rights that come with each.”
If you would like to discuss issues relating to living or separating as a cohabiting couple and how the law might affect you, contact one of our expert family solicitors today on 01234 88977 or 0207 177 9777 for a free consultation. Serving Bedford and central London, our lawyers can help you with all your family law matters.