More and more people simply live together without formalising their relationship. Some marry or register as civil partners (if they are a same-sex couple) later on; others never formalise anything. For some people this is because they are opposed to traditional relationship models and gender roles, for others this is a natural progression.
There is no such thing as “common law marriage” in England and Wales any more (nor in Scotland) and therefore no protection for a (financially) vulnerable party. There have been proposals for a cohabitation law in England from the Law Commission and Resolution, but nothing has been put before Parliament by the government and it does not look as if the government would make this a priority. A bill was read in the House of Lords introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill in December 2008. Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield, introduced a private member's bill on 25 March 2009. Both are, however, unlikely to become law. Therefore there is no protection for cohabitants as such. There is limited protection in Scotland.
When there are problems and relationships break down, the law is not so clear as it is on divorce or civil partnership dissolution. There are, however, various legal provisions which help in certain areas. This area of the website has free information on:
Often more than one of these legal areas is relevant in a case. If you are in a position where you have separated from your partner, you should obtain advice from an expert family lawyer. Andrea Woelke is an accredited expert in the area of cohabitation. To contact him, please email him or give us a ring.
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This is an outline of the law, practice and procedure in England and Wales. It should not be taken as specific advice. All families and couples are different. The law may have changed since this was written and we therefore accept no liability for inaccuracies. Where examples are given, your personal circumstances may vary slightly, but the difference may be significant for the outcome of the legal process. Contact us for specific advice on your own circumstances.
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