Five myths about common law marriage that you can’t ignore

Richard BusbyThere is a huge number of unmarried people in England and Wales who believe they are in a ‘common-law marriage’.

The top 5 most commonly encountered myths are ‘busted’ below:

1. I am in a common-law marriage for 20 years so I will be provided for.

There has been no such thing as a common law marriage since 1753.  It doesn’t matter how long you have lived together, if you are unmarried, you cannot bring the same claims married couples can bring against one another.

2. I am the childcarer, dependent on him and have never been able to contribute financially. We never talked about ownership but I believe I will get a share of his home after the children grow up.

Having a child together only gives the right to make a claim for financial provision for the benefit of the child. In ‘big money’ cases, the lines can get blurred as to what the childcarer’s needs are but the general principle is to ensure the child’s needs are met. The provision of a home can be only until the child is 18. After that, the home can be sold with the former childcaring partner receiving nothing.

3. At least if we separate he will pay me maintenance.  

If you split up your partner would not have to pay you maintenance, even if you stayed at home to look after your children – but they would still have to pay child maintenance which, currently, for 1 child is 15% of their net income. The court cannot get involved in child maintenance issues unless, for example, there are disabled children or net income is very high.

4. I moved in to live with him years ago, I have rights to stay in the home when we separate.

For couples who rented together, if you were not named on the rental agreement you will have no automatic right to stay and you would be left to apply to court for an order for a right to occupy, which can be uncertain. Similarly, if your ex-partner owned your home, and there is no other agreement or court order in place, you will have no contractual right to stay if they ask you to leave.

5. But at least I will inherit on his death?

If your partner dies and you were not married or in a civil partnership, and they have not made a will, you have no automatic entitlement to inherit anything from them, including your family home, even if it is in their name or if you own it jointly as ‘tenants in common’. You would be left to make an application to court for provision from the estate and these applications can be uncertain and costly.

If you are co-habiting, to find out what your rights are in detail, you should see a solicitor for a confidential fixed-fee consultation.


Richard Busby is a partner and specialist divorce solicitor at Fisher Meredith LLP:

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