It’s never too late ……..

Who believes in the myth of the “Common Law Spouse” ?

You do ?

Well, in that case, this post, courtesy of my colleague, Vijaya Sumputh, Family Law Solicitor here at Curwens, will make interesting reading………(spread the word…)

“According to recent census data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of over-65 couples cohabiting outside marriage has doubled in the span of a decade. In 2011 only 9% of people in that age group had been divorced as opposed to 2001, where only 4.5% had experienced a divorce. Since then, cohabitation among older people has almost doubled. In 2001, only 1.6 % lived with a partner but that number had jumped to 2.8% by 2011 and has been increasing ever since.

A combination of other factors has been suggested for the rise in the ONS report such as:

1. Increased life expectancy and better health.
2. Divorce is no longer such a stigma as it was in the past, while now the increasing economic independence of women means more can afford to divorce.
3. As older people are living longer and enjoying better health, affairs and adultery are becoming more common among this age group, leading to marital splits.
4. To protect their children’s inheritance from previous marriages.

Over 6 million people are now living together, with millions of children between them. Those who chose to live together appear blissfully unaware of how it could all end – that they don’t have the same rights or tax advantages as married couples when a relationship breaks down, probably because of the myth of the “common law” husband or wife, which actually has no basis in law. If one partner is financially dependent on the other there is no legal relationship created, no automatic right to share in financial assets like property, income or pensions and no automatic right to a share on death either. Some people also believe that the length of time they have cohabited makes a difference, but that too, is an urban myth.

Sadly, there’s no law currently in place to protect cohabitants. The Law Commission and the Supreme Court have strongly recommended a law that would recognise and compensate for economic loss for cohabitants in a qualifying cohabitation relationship but the last two governments have refused to recognise the need to introduce a law protecting cohabitant rights.

While there are ways to protect yourself against any future relationship split such as a “Living Together Agreement” which will clarify who pays what and what would happen to contents and so on if the relationship comes to an end and a Declaration of Trust as to the ownership of a house. On death, a well drafted will should help too, particularly given the taxation disadvantages of cohabitation. All these solutions only tinker around the edges and while I would definitely recommend them all, none of these provides for cohabitation breakdown as comprehensively as a new tailor-made law that is fit for the purpose of our modern society.

We can only hope (but not hold our breath) that our new government will have time to consider the requested recommendation during its term.”

Vijaya Sumputh