Marriage, Civil Partnerships and Cohabition: The Difference | Marcia Mediation

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If you’re in a long-term relationship, you might expect certain rights, for example a claim to your partner’s estate if they die, or some form of financial support if they end your relationship.

But unless there is a clear legal commitment like a marriage or civil partnership in place, you might have far fewer rights than you think.

Here are some things to keep in mind – some of which will come as a surprise to many people who live in a cohabiting but unmarried relationship.

Common-law marriage

You’ve probably heard the term ‘common-law husband’ or ‘common-law wife’ used to refer to somebody’s partner if they are in a long-term relationship, especially when cohabiting, but have never got married or formed a civil partnership.

A huge number of people believe common-law marriage gives them certain legal rights. However, this is not the case.

While you may earn certain limited rights, for example if you buy a house under a joint mortgage with a partner to whom you are not married, in general there is no automatic legal right granted to you just because you live with someone for a long time.

Cohabitation contract

If you want to live together without getting married, you could consider a cohabitation contract instead.

This is a legal document that allows you to set out an agreement on how you will share the property, and your rights and obligations towards one another.

For example, this might be a sensible measure to take if one person is moving into a property that is wholly owned and furnished by the other, to make clear whether it will remain the sole possession of the owner or if it will be shared 50/50.

Marriage and civil partnership

Civil partnerships and marriage are two ways to legally bind a relationship. In essence, they are a legal contract in which you pledge to stay with your partner for the rest of your life.

In return, you also bind your financial interests to a greater extent. For example if you have a joint account and one partner dies, the balance of the account immediately transfers to the surviving party.

However, this is also true of debts, including joint account overdrafts. And even if you are married, there may be restrictions on how quickly and fully you can take control of accounts that are solely in your partner’s name if they die.

What this means for separation and divorce

All of this means it is legally easier to separate if you are not married or in a civil partnership, as there’s no need to get a divorce or dissolution.

But it can be more complicated to reach an agreement on separating finances and assets – especially if one party claims sole ownership.

For example, if your partner has always controlled the household finances, using an account solely in their name, it can be very difficult to prove you have any claim to a share of the balance.

In any such dispute, mediators can help with a common-sense approach to making arrangements that respect the law but also ensure neither partner is left facing an adverse situation after getting out of a long-term, co-dependent, but never legally formalised relationship.

Contact us today if you would like the consider mediation to separate from your partner.