The Office of National Statistics has recently released the annual estimates of the population by legal marital status and cohabitation for England and Wales.
The figures show that the proportion of the population aged 16 years and over in England and Wales who are married has continued to decline in 2018 to 50.5%, down from 51.0% in 2017. Whilst the proportion of the population married declines, the number of people aged 16 and over, who are living with a partner continues to increase, rising to a total of five million in 2018.
It is a misconception still held that ‘common-law marriage’ rights exist and that these can be relied upon when dividing finances at the end of the relationship. Cohabiting couples do not have the same legal protection and have less legal responsibility to each other in the event of a separation.
Married couples are able to rely on the wide ranges of powers the Court has under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The Court has the ability to make Orders that fall into two main categories which are income and capital. To name a few examples, a spouse is entitled to claim for financial support after separation in the form of maintenance and can claim an interest in a spouse’s property.
Whereas cohabiting couples have no legal responsibility to provide a former partner with financial support, this is separate from any child maintenance that may be payable. If a cohabiting couple split then in general they cannot claim ownership of each other’s property such as a house, unless they can prove this on the basis of a trust.
Unmarried couples should consider a cohabitation agreement which is a legal document and is created to provide couples with legal protection and to help make things more straightforward in the event of a separation.
As more couples forgo a walk down the aisle and choose to cohabit, it is important that such couples consider their legal position and what would happen in the event of a break down in the relationship.
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