The Times recently featured articles looking at the rights of cohabiting couples. This is an issue which should have been considered by government some time ago to deal with the widely-held belief that couples who live together have similar rights to married couples.
Upon separation, the rights of married couples are governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and this legislation has never been updated to deal with the rapidly changing social habits of long term partners. At the time the legislation was passed in the mid 1970’s, it was not considered socially acceptable for unmarried couples to live together long term and raise a family. Forty years on, this has become commonplace.
The reasons many couples of my generation choose never to marry range from the unaffordable cost of a wedding in difficult economic times, to simply not holding the institution of marriage in the same regard our parents did. At a time when over 40% of marriages end in divorce, many take the attitude of “why bother in the first place?” Others are actively anti-marriage and feel that their relationship need not be validated by an expensive cake and a piece of paper.
This shift in attitude has coined the phrase “common law wife/husband” and has fuelled the perception that living together for a long time means that the law will treat you as a married couples. This is just not true. The term “common law wife/husband hasn’t had any validity since the mid 1700’s. The fundamental and, for some, shocking truth, is that unmarried couples do not have the same protection as married couples. The starting point on divorce is equality, that is, a 50/50 split of assets, while for unmarried couples, assets which are in the ex-partner’s sole name, remain so on separation. This can cause serious financial difficulties for the other partner, especially if he or she has custody of the children.
However, there are avenues which unmarried couples can pursue in order to protect themselves in the event of a separation. These include trust deeds and declarations of trust, which are legally binding documents and which can legally set out how you own a property.
Therefore, if you don’t want to follow the advice of the widely acclaimed Beyoncé Knowles and “put a ring on it” then please contact Venisha Shahfor some sound legal advice and “put your name on it!”. You can ring Venisha Shah on 020 8899 6620 or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.