New research suggests that a third of the UK’s cohabitees wrongly believe that they have the same legal protection as those who are married.
A survey conducted by polling company YouGov put a range of questions to 1,000 unmarried couples living in various parts of the UK.
In total, 35 per cent of respondents believed that their relationship afforded them the same rights as those who were married or in a civil partnership.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to dispel the myth that ‘common law marriage’ is a recognised arrangement in the courts of England and Wales.
But the new poll suggests that despite cohabiting couples being identified as the fastest growing type of family in the UK, misconceptions about the legal status of the relationship have endured in many households.
Seventy-six per cent of respondents were not familiar with the concept of cohabitation agreements and only two per cent had signed such a document.
There was also a general lack of awareness about the law relating to joint tenancy arrangements and how property would be split in the event that the relationship broke down.
Although many couples remained unclear about current laws, an overwhelming majority believed that cohabitees should receive the same legal rights as those who had married.
Unfortunately, despite many in the legal profession pressing for reforms, there is little confidence that suggested legislation will complete its passage through Parliament.
The Cohabitation Rights Bill received a second reading in the House of Lords over two years ago, but there has been little progress since.
For organisations such as Resolution, the family law association, the sluggish pace of change is far from satisfactory, particularly given that there are now 3.3million couples cohabiting nationwide.
Surjit Verdi, an Associate Solicitor who specialises in Family Law, said: “There has been a concerted effort over a number of years to change the law and give cohabitees greater protection. Unfortunately it has proven difficult to persuade Parliament of the need for reform.
“Until such changes are implemented, it is important for unmarried couples to consider the benefits of entering into a cohabitation agreement.
“This allows them to set out clearly what should happen in the event that they separate. Without such an agreement in place, there is the risk that significant complications could arise.
“Unmarried couples should also be aware that if one of them dies without a valid will in place then their partner will not be entitled to inherit any part of their estate under the intestacy rules. It is therefore important to ensure that they have appropriate wills in place.”
For advice and help on protecting your legal rights as an unmarried couple, including drafting a cohabitation agreement, please contact us.