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Whilst living together before marriage is a reality of modern life, the existence of a common law wife or husband remains a myth.

The younger generations often view living together as a test before marriage, but statistics tell us that couples who cohabit  before marriage are more likely to divorce. This may be due to the fact that they tend to be younger than couples who opt to marry without testing the water first. Maybe life experience offers a more solid basis for any relationship?

Typically couples begin to cohabit in their mid or late twenties, often after leaving university or completing their education. Given the difficulties in getting on the housing ladder, the bank of mum and dad is often the only means for a young couple to purchase a property. Whilst parents often seek to protect their financial contributions by jointly owning the property with the couple and entering into a declaration of trust to record each person’s share, the cohabiting couple are often reluctant to go down the legal route. So what rights does a cohabiting couple have if they split up?

Contrary to urban myth, common law wives or husbands do not exist. Unmarried partners have no rights to claim financial support if the relationship breaks down. The only exception is child maintenance payments (if the couple have children), ordinarily assessed by the Child Maintenance Service. However, this will not take into account any ex-partners’ living costs. This can be problematic when one partner has given up work in order to raise young children.

If the couple do not have a trust for any property they co-own, recording their shares at the time they bought it is advisable in case a dispute arises. If they don’t take this most basic step, they may find themselves having to navigate their way through complex laws of trusts to work out how much of a share in any property they might be entitled to. Not only is this problematic, it also requires expert legal advice to resolve, particularly as the law on trusts is frequently changing on a case by case basis.

To avoid such issues, it is a good idea for any couple who is thinking of moving in together to enter into a ‘living together agreement’. This can set down at the outset what might happen in the unfortunate event their relationship breaks down and prevents any problems arising. Whilst not the most romantic way to take the next step in your relationship, knowing all the practicalities are in place gives peace of mind and ensures future finances.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.