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Do cohabiting couples and married couples have the same legal rights?

View profile for Katey  Stephenson
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Results from the Office for National Statistics show that there are currently 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK. This is a dramatic increase from the 1.5 million people cohabiting in 1996, but while this popular flexible living arrangement is on the rise every year, do these couples enjoy the same legal rights as married couples?  

Research by Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and family problems  shows that two thirds of cohabiting couples in the UK are under the impression that their ‘common law marriage’ has legal standing. Under UK law, if a person dies without creating a legally valid will then they die ‘intestate’, and the rules of intestacy will determine who is to inherit. For all married couples, the surviving spouse is the first consideration and will receive all, if not the majority, of their partner’s estate when they die. For those cohabiting, regardless of how long they have lived together, partners are entitled to absolutely nothing. In the eyes of the law, cohabiting couples may as well be complete strangers to one another. So if the survivor relied on their partner’s salary, or had lived in a property held in their partner’s sole name, then this could mean that the survivor loses both their home and lifestyle. This isn’t to say that a claim couldn't be made on the estate, but with that claim comes a hefty legal bill and no guarantee of success. 

While the intestacy rules have not quite adapted to our modern family ideal, this doesn’t mean that the survivor of a cohabiting couple should be left empty-handed. By putting a will in place, you ensure that in the event you or your partner passes away, the survivor is looked after. For more information on our wills service, please contact me on 01206 217363 or alternatively email me on katey.stephenson@birkettlong.co.uk.

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