The ‘common law marriage’ myth: – Mediation Harpenden

It could appear as though there are countless weddings taking place as the new season begins, which is especially surprising considering that the pandemic forced a temporary halt to the throwing of large parties. In spite of this, Mediation Harpenden new data suggests that a declining proportion of couples are opting to tie the knot. This month, in light of the growing trend of unmarried couples living together for extended periods of time rather than getting married, I presented some things for unmarried couples to think about, regardless of whether they are already living together or are contemplating taking the next step in their relationship.

There is a widespread misunderstanding that if a person cohabits with another person, that person automatically becomes their “common law spouse,” which provides them with the same legal rights as a married pair. In point of fact, if an unmarried couple decides to split up, even after having spent their entire adult lives together, the courts will only have recourse to their legal rights as owners of property or other assets when considering asset ownership in any dispute that may arise between them. This is true even if the couple has spent their entire adult lives together. The “fairness principle” that is used to divorcing married couples when the courts decide how the assets that have been accumulated over the course of their marriage are to be divided is not compelled to be followed by the courts, and this is true regardless of whose name the assets are kept in. In addition, unlike in the case of married couples, the courts are not obligated to ensure that the future financial requirements of both parties are satisfied.

According to Mediation Harpenden if a couple does not intend to get married, but they do intend to take actions that could put one party at a disadvantage in the event of a divorce, then we strongly recommend that they enter into a Cohabitation Agreement to establish how their assets are owned and how they should be divided in the event that they divorce. In this agreement, the couple would set out how their assets are owned and how they should be divided in the event that they divorce. The following contains a list of some crucial topics to consider while having a conversation about property ownership and access to children:

Purchasing a house

Before you get involved in a joint real estate purchase, you and your partner need to think about and talk about how you want to own the property. For instance, you and your partner might each contribute a different amount toward the down payment, but you might agree that the person with the higher income should pay a larger portion of the monthly mortgage payment (despite the fact that, from the lender’s perspective, you are both jointly and severally liable for payment of the entire amount that is due under the mortgage).

You have the option of deciding that these differences should result in each of you owning distinct and separate shares in the property that you buy, potentially in different amounts, i.e. recognising the differing contributions that are being made. Alternatively, you could choose to ignore these differences. Alternately, you have the option of deciding that such discrepancies will not have any bearing on the outcome and that you and your partner would jointly own the property in equal and indivisible portions (which, if later separated, will mean you each own one-half share of the property).

If the legal ownership of the family home is only registered in one party’s name, the other party will have no claim to it unless they can prove that the couple had a common intention that the ownership was to be shared, or that they have contributed funds towards the property, such as contributing towards the deposit, the monthly mortgage payments, or undertaking and funding significant improvements to the property – although this is not always the case when one party is a breadwinner. If the legal ownership of the family home is only registered in one party’

Any reputable conveyancer should provide information to joint purchasers regarding the many ways in which property can be owned, and they should obtain explicit instructions from both purchasers. In particular, if your partner is taking the lead in managing the conveyancing process on your joint behalf, you should make sure that you are copied into all correspondence and that the conveyancer confirms to you both, independently, your instructions regarding intended ownership. This is especially important if your partner is managing the conveyancing process.

The way that ownership is recorded at the time of purchase, according to the procedures that are currently in place for conveyancing, will typically prove definitive later in the event of a dispute. This is the case unless the parties enter into a further written formal agreement, changing the position by way of a Deed.


When it comes to financial assistance for children, the circumstances of unmarried couples who cohabit but are not married, on the one hand, and married couples, on the other, are significantly different from one another. If a person is unable to fulfil their financial obligations after the dissolution of their marriage, they may be eligible for spousal support if they can demonstrate that their ability to produce an income was hindered as a result of having primary responsibility for the care of their children. However, this does not apply to people who live together as a couple since they are not eligible for any further financial assistance in the event that their relationship ends. Cohabitees are completely out of luck in this regard.

However, child support, which refers to payments made to contribute toward meeting the needs of the children, must be paid regardless of the previous status of the connection between the parents and their children. In the event that parents are unable to come to an agreement for child support, the amount of the obligation can either be decided in line with the standards established by the Child Maintenance Service or, in some cases, by the court.

Additionally, the guidelines for determining who is accountable for decision-making in matters pertaining to the children are not uniform. A father who is not married and who is cohabiting with another person can only gain Parental Responsibility for his kid if he is listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father. Married dads automatically acquire this responsibility for their children. In the event that this does not take place, the father will be required to submit an application to the court requesting that he be granted parental responsibility.

Given the information presented above, as well as the limited legal protections that are afforded to cohabitees, it is of the utmost importance that they make a commitment to reviewing together their respective financial positions and regularly revisit their expectations regarding financial support at each and every point when they make decisions pertaining to their relationship. I highly encourage anyone who is considering living together (or who may already be cohabiting) to seriously consider signing into a cohabitation agreement, as this will give protection for both individuals involved in the relationship.

Contact our Mediator at Harpenden or call on 0208 719 0001

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