There are nearly 3 million couples cohabiting in the UK and the figures are expected to rise steadily. Research indicates that a majority of the public are unaware of the legal differences between marriage and cohabitation. They believe that living together for longer than 2 years automatically gives them ‘common-law rights’. Many are shocked when they split up only to find out this is not the case. Quite simply, there is no such thing as common law marriage and it has not existed since the mid 18th century.
A prevailing myth
Prior to the Act, there was uncertainty about what constituted a ‘proper’ marriage. In the 13th Century, Pope Innocent III declared that the free consent of spouses and not the formal solemnities of a priest were the essence of marriage. Throughout the middle ages, various courts gave overlapping judgments on how the matrimonial assets should be split. It was not until the Marriage Act of 1753 that common law marriage was formally renounced after a number of unscrupulous schemers seduced heirs and heiresses in an attempt to fleece them of their assets via the common law arrangements!
A higher chance of a split
Of course, the legal realities of a potential split are unlikely to deter any couple from cohabiting and couples often refuse to take advice at an early stage as they think it is ‘unromantic’ or breaching trust in a partner. Given the above we can only suggest that you seriously think about seeing a solicitor if you have been in a relationship, but unmarried, for a while.