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There’s no such thing as a ‘Common Law Spouse’

We've all been there - looking through to find the cheapest car insurance and you are given the option of 'single/married/common-law partners'. The term 'common-law partners/spouses' however is not legally recognised past this point.

Couples often consider themselves as 'common-law' partners when they have been in a relationship for some time and are living together, but are not legally married. Some people believe that after a certain period of time they acquire the same legal standing as married couples. This is not the case and at present, despite various discussions between government departments, there are no plans to make any changes to the law in this area.

When couples are legally married, upon separation, they will find help in the form of the Matrimonial Causes Act, should they have any difficulties with regards to reaching a financial agreement. The Matrimonial Causes Act will ensure that all assets/debts are taken into consideration when considering what would be a fair financial settlement. This includes looking at each parties pension provisions and ongoing payments for both children and the other party to the marriage to ensure not only the parties capital needs are met but also their day-to-day income needs. This remedy however is only available if you are married, regardless of how long two people have lived together.

When couples split up and they are not married the financial aspects of their separation will be determined by the principles of land law - essentially how parties own a property will govern who gets what, unless one party can show that they have made an exceptional contribution over what they are legally entitled to. In the event that one person in a couple dies, when they are unmarried, and without a Will then there is no provision for the surviving partner to claim anything from the deceased's estate.

Children born to couples who are unmarried will still be protected financially upon separation however claims are very limited and will usually only extend to the child/children of the family being provided with a home and maintenance (usually governed by the Child Support Agency) whilst they are under the age of eighteen.

In addition there are many more areas where married and cohabiting couples are distinguished. If you are considering therefore cohabiting with a partner or remaining in a relationship without being married bear in mind that you do not have the same legal position as a married couple. Our Legal Specialists will be able to advise you about your rights throughout your relationship as well as following separation.

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