Myth Busting Guide for Co-habiting Couples

01 Dec 2017

Cohabiting couples have become the fastest growing family type in the UK but a new survey has revealed that two thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe common law marriage laws exist when dividing up finances. The survey, by Resolution, found many people thought they would be entitled to money if they split up when, in reality, they wouldn’t be.

Following the surprising findings we have unveiled a myth busting guide to educate couples on where they stand when it comes to splitting up.

Grant Cameron is a partner in Trethowans’ family team and works from the firm’s Southampton and Winchester offices. He said: “The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled in the last decade, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. We’re really seeing that reflected on the ground here in the south, with less divorces but a growing number of splits from co-habiting relationships.”

Grant says the most common disputes following the breakup of a cohabiting relationship relate to money and children arrangements. “Thankfully, it’s only in a relatively small number of cases that these disputes make it all the way to court. Mediation – getting both parties around a table with a mediator to come to a resolution – is becoming increasingly popular. I’m a big advocate of mediation and particularly for couples breaking up; it’s a useful tool in resolving issues in a safe environment.”

Nigel Shepherd, chairman of Resolution has called for the government to make changes to the law to give cohabiting couples better basic rights should they separate. Grant, who sits on Resolution National Committee with Nigel, says: “I absolutely agree. The way people are having relationships is changing and the law needs to change to reflect that. There have been calls for reform for some years now and I hope these latest survey findings will put change at the top of the agenda.”

Trethowans’ myth busting guide

I’m an unmarried dad – if I split up with the child’s mother, I won’t get to see my child again

MYTH – Provisions concerning child arrangements are the same whether you are married or not – just because you’re a cohabiting couple it doesn’t mean you won’t get to spend time with your child. There is no default to award day to day care to the mother – it’s all based on the best decision for the child’s welfare.

If you’ve been with your partner for a certain number of years you become ‘common law husband and wife’

MYTH – There’s no such thing as a common law husband and wife.

I’ve been with my partner (unmarried) for 20 years and we have children together – I’ll be entitled to a share of their pension or maintenance if we split up

MYTH – Unless you’re married you’ll have no claim in your own right for maintenance or pension sharing

My partner and I bought a house together and I put in 80 per cent of the deposit. If we break up I’ll get that share back.

Myth – Not necessarily. You’ll only get your share back if you have a written legal agreement setting that out. If you don’t have such an agreement and the property is held jointly the Court could rule that your ex partner gets half.