Recent research carried out by a large regional law firm found that more than 50% of those canvassed believed that after a period of time two people living together but neither married nor in a civil partnership are in a ‘common law marriage’. There is no such thing as a common law marriage.
Take the following scenario: Sam and Kim live together in a house owned solely by Sam. Kim has made no financial contribution to the purchase of the house. Sam pays the mortgage. They have children and decide that Kim will give up work to look after the children. The relationship breaks down after the children have left home. Kim has no right to a share in the value the house; no right to any financial support (maintenance) from Sam; and no claim over Sam’s pension. The Court cannot reallocate assets at the end of a co-habiting relationship. Poor Kim – whose financial circumstances would have been very different had he or she been married to or in a civil partnership with Sam at the end of the relationship.
Kim’s position would have been different had he or she contributed to the mortgage or paid towards the deposit on the house. Unless Sam and Kim had set out clearly in a Cohabitation Agreement at the beginning of home ownership how their shares were to be divided, should their relationship end, an expensive legal argument could follow whilst trying to sort out their respective intentions many years before at the beginning of their relationship.
Had the children not left home Kim may have a temporary reprieve in terms of housing, but in most circumstances only until the children are 18.
In a future article I will consider what steps Kim could take to protect the children’s interests at the end of the relationship with Sam.