Unmarried Couples And The 'Common Law Marriage' Myth

The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3. million in 2017.

A recent survey carried out by family law group Resolution found that around two-thirds incorrectly thought that there were "common law marriage" laws to govern how financial arrangements are drawn up, similar to married couples. Under current law, it is possible for couples to live together for decades, have children together, but not have to take any responsibility for each other if the relationship then breaks down.

A poll carried out by Resolution found that 84% of people thought the government should take steps to ensure unmarried, cohabiting couples knew they did not have the same legal rights as married couples. 281of those people polled were cohabiting with their partner.


  • If one cohabiting partner dies without a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything unless they jointly own property. A married partner would inherit at least some of their estate.
  • An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any financial claims in their own right (e.g. for property, maintenance or pensions).
  • A cohabiting partner cannot access their partner's account if they die, whereas married couples may be able to withdraw smaller balances.
  • Unmarried couples do not need to go to court to formally end their relationship, whereas married couples require a divorce.
  • Married couples have a legal duty to support each other financially whereas cohabiting couples do not.
  • If you are unmarried and share a property with a tenant but are not named on the tenancy yourself, you have no rights to stay if you are asked to leave. If you are married you have the right to remain.

For specialist advice for unmarried couples upon separation, including claims on behalf of any children, please contact the Fosters Family and Children Norwich Solicitors on 01603 620508.