The ‘Common Law Myth’

”But we’ve lived together for over 20 years.”

”We’ve shared everything as a couple.”

”We are as good as married.”

As the saying goes, if I had  penny for every time I heard one of these phrases or something similar fall from the open mouth of an individual who has just added shock to the emotional trauma of a relationship ending, I may not need to write this article.

Today, we think nothing of a couple who have chosen to share their lives by simply ‘cohabiting’ (or ‘living together’) rather than go through the formality of getting married. People share homes, money, cars and bring together children into what is often described as a ‘patchwork family’, and it is testimony to the acceptance of our society that no one has a problem with it.

This is all wonderful while everything is going well. But what happens if things change?

Throughout my career, in family law and mediation, I have often been in the difficult position if informing clients who come to me asking for help that, because they have not gone through any formal process in putting everything together, there are no legal rights or systems in place to help separate them again. It all has to be done through communication, goodwill and negotiation, which can be difficult for a couple wanting to separate.

I often hear the phrase ‘Common Law Marriage’, and one of these days I will take the time to learn how this phrase came about because it certainly does not exist. ‘Common Law Marriage’ is a ‘Common Law Myth’ and amounts to very little in a court of law.

Sometimes an individual is shocked to learn that, though they lived in a house for years, they have no legal claim for any money from the property or right to expect their partner to sell, leaving them homeless. Sometimes, joint bank accounts have been emptied by one partner. Cars that were bought by one partner for another to drive can be taken back by the owner. Individuals may have difficulty getting to spend time with children they have bonded with.

Of course, the vast majority of people don’t enter into living arrangements expecting their relationships to fail, and for some people cohabitation protects their assets and wealth from the demands of an ex-husband/wife, but my message is simple – ‘Be Aware’.

Every time you make a change to your personal circumstances, think about the future. What will happen in the event of another change? Where will you go? What will you do? Do you need to protect yourself?

This is why I’m delighted that ‘Resolution’, the professional association for those working in family law, has chosen the issue of Cohabitation for their annual campaign this year. Yes, their is a valid argument that the law has not kept pace with modern life, but until there are changes, people must be aware of the situations they are living in.

For more information, or to confidentially discuss your situation, Claire can be contacted on 023 9248 1183 or at claire@mediation-now.co.uk