Common law marriage

If you’re living with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you have NO legal rights. Fact. Common law marriage doesn’t exist. So make sure you protect yourself before you get cohabiting.

happy couple moving in

Living together doesn't give you any legal rights.

What is common law marriage?

Common law marriage is a couple who live together but who aren’t married to each other. The word ‘marriage’ is misleading as you have no legal rights as a couple just by living together, and you have no legal rights to each other’s stuff if you break up. Even if you’re lived together for ages, this means nothing in the eyes of the law.

Not really. No. Not unless you take legal steps to protect yourself. Cohabitees are couples that live together, including same-sex relationships. The law is the same whether the individuals are the same sex or not.

Many people think that the term ‘common law wife’ or husband means that after a certain period of time they will have the same rights as an actual husband or wife; however, these relationships don’t have the same legal recognition, even if you’re engaged to be married.

How can I protect myself legally before I move in with someone?

If you want to protect your assets (money, possessions and property), you can draw up a legal agreement called a ‘cohabitation contract’ or ‘living together agreement’. This will outline the rights and obligations towards each other, such as how a jointly-owned house is shared. If you want to do this it would be a good idea to get legal advice on how to draw one up. It’s also worth writing a will so you can decide if you want to leave anything to your partner, as this won’t happen automatically if you’re not married.

Co-habiting rights to each other’s money

Unlike married couples, cohabitees are under no legal duty to look after one another financially, unless you’ve made a specific agreement to do so. You and your partner are legally responsible for your own debts, the whole of debts in joint names, and debts for which you have ‘joint and several’ legal responsibility.

If you were to break up and one of you didn’t use the account at all, you would need to prove you had rights to any money, for example, by showing you regularly put money into a particular bank account.

Do I have a right to the house if I live with someone long enough?

If you’re unmarried, and your partner owns the house, you have no right to it at all if you break up. It doesn’t matter how long you were together. Not only that, you have no right to stay there if they effectively chuck you out, unless you have children to look after and nowhere else to go.

Death: If your partner dies and doesn’t leave a will, you won’t automatically inherit anything unless you own property together. Unlike married or civil partners, you won’t be exempt from paying inheritance tax.

Photo of couple moving in by Shutterstock


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Updated on 29-Sep-2015