Does common law marriage exist in the UK? What you need to know

Common law marriage is a concept that refers to a marriage-like relationship between two people who live together for a certain period of time but without actually getting married or registering their partnership formally. This type of arrangement is recognised in some countries but not in the UK.

What is common law marriage?

The exact definition of common law marriage can vary depending on the country or state in which it is recognised, but in general, it refers to a relationship in which the couple has not formalised their union through marriage or civil partnership.

In some countries, common law marriage is recognised as a legal status that provides certain rights and protections to the couple. For example, in the United States, common-law marriage is recognised in some states, and couples who meet certain criteria can enjoy many of the same legal benefits as married couples.

Is common law marriage recognised in the UK?

The law here in the UK means that, even if a couple have lived together for many years, they do not have the same legal rights and protections as a married couple. Many people think we do have this system, but when it comes to dividing finances, parental rights and even inheritance rights, the law in the UK largely fails to offer any protection if there is a split between a cohabiting but unmarried, couple.

What are the implications of this for couples?

There can be significant implications for couples living together without getting married. Some of the key areas where unmarried couples are impacted include:

  • Inheritance rights
  • Pension rights
  • Property rights
  • Parental rights
  • Tax breaks and benefits

What can cohabiting couples do to protect themselves?

There are steps that couples can take to protect themselves and their assets. By taking these steps, couples can ensure that they are prepared for any eventuality and that their rights and interests are protected. Some of these steps include:

Cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement can be drawn up to establish the couple’s rights and responsibilities towards each other in the event of separation. It covers finances, property and what will happen to your children if you were to split up or if either partner was to become ill or pass away.

Cohabitation agreements are popular with unmarried couples living together, as they can cover all aspects of joint life and the complexities a split can have on this and offer protection for both parties and their assets.

Make a will

Without being married, or in a civil partnership, a surviving partner may not automatically inherit their partner’s assets if they die without leaving a will. So, couples should each make a will to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes in the event of their death.

​Having a will offers you the chance to address what you would like to happen when you are no longer here, and as well as providing protection for unmarried couples, it can also be beneficial to all other friends and family too. You should also carefully check the terms of any insurance policies and your death in service benefit to make sure that you can nominate your partner where possible.

If you have any questions on anything in this article or would like to know more, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team.