However the law has been slow to recognise the impact that this trend has upon the legal treatment of such relationships. As Michael Berkley has written in the forward to our newly published book Living Together and the Law: A Guide to Cohabitation:
‘If one was to go into any café, pub, supermarket, doctor’s waiting room or member’s club across England and Wales, and was to ask people what they thought about the rules regarding cohabitation without marriage, I guarantee that the vast majority of them would still, to this day, talk about the ‘common law wife (or husband) which, as all lawyers know, is a complete myth, particularly in regard to property rights.’
The Law Commission raised the matter of cohabitation rights in 2007 but any change was abandoned by Labour in 2008 and again by the Coalition in 2011. In 2011 the Commission addressed inheritance rights but again no action was taken by the government.
It is inevitable that legal change will come, although so far the signs are not encouraging, but the pitfalls of living together in respect of children, property, finances are, from the legal perspective, fraught should the relationship breakdown.
Discussing the legal aspects of living together and perhaps considering a Cohabitation Agreement may, temporarily, extinguish some of the passion in your relationship but it might just help later if you hit a rough patch.
As Michael states the rights of a common law marriage are non-existent – you are either married or you are not! For now the law is clear about rights in a marriage but if you live together then it can become something of a free-for-all if you subsequently go your separate ways.
Living Together and the Law is written to provide a clear, practical and understandable guide to the law as it stands, removing any popular misconceptions. Definitely worth a read so you can be sure where you stand legally in good times and in bad.