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Common Law Marriage in England – Fact or Fiction?

Common Law Marriage in England

Book with title common law on a table.

Common law marriage has long been a misunderstood concept, leading many individuals to believe that they automatically acquire legal rights as a husband or wife simply by cohabiting with their partner for an extended period of time. This misconception is particularly prevalent in England, where people often assume that the status of a “common law husband” or “common law wife” holds legal weight. However, the truth is very much different from this popularly held belief. In this blog, we will explore the realities surrounding common-law marriage in England.

Common Law Marriage – A Fictional Notion in England & Wales

England & Wales do not currently recognise common law marriage. In other words, merely living together for an extended period does not automatically grant couples the legal rights and protections associated with couples who are legally married. The legal implications of marriage are distinct from those of cohabitation and assuming otherwise can lead to significant misunderstandings.

Legal Protections for Cohabiting Couples

While common law marriage is not recognised in England, this does not mean that cohabiting couples are entirely devoid of legal protections. Although complicated, the legal system provides some safeguards for individuals in long-term relationships, particularly if they choose to separate. For instance, the Family Law Act 1996 allows cohabiting couples to seek financial settlements in the event of a breakup, but these rights are not equivalent to those of married couples.

In cases where cohabiting couples have children together, the Family Law Act recognises the importance of ensuring financial provisions for the well-being of the children. This includes considerations for child maintenance, education, and other essential needs.

The Act also addresses the division of property for cohabiting couples. While the legal framework might not equate these rights to those of married couples, it acknowledges the financial interdependence that can develop during cohabitation, leading to provisions for a fair distribution of jointly acquired assets.

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Mediation – A Path to Resolution

Couple at Mediation MeetingFamily mediation emerges as a valuable tool in the resolution of disputes for couples, regardless of their marital status. In situations where unmarried couples decide to separate, as well as for those undergoing divorce, mediation serves as a valuable process for aiding the intricate challenges associated with separation.

In England and Wales, married couples benefit from legal protections under marital law, providing a framework for issues such as the division of assets, financial settlements, and child arrangements.

Here are some key ways how family mediation aids unmarried couples:

1 – Neutral Third Party Facilitation

 In cases of unmarried couples deciding to separate, family mediation provides the presence of a neutral third party. This is particularly beneficial as there might not be a predetermined legal structure (as in divorce) to guide the separation process.

2 – Working Through the Challenges of Separation

Even though common law marriage is not recognised in the legal framework, unmarried couples may still have shared assets and responsibilities. Family Mediation becomes a forum to address issues such as property division, financial matters, and childcare. Without the legal structure of divorce, mediation provides a flexible and customised approach to resolving disputes that suit the unique circumstances of each couple.

3 – Addressing Key Issues Collaboratively

Unmarried couples can use family mediation to collaboratively address key issues. The absence of a formalised legal marriage does not diminish the significance of these issues. Mediation allows the couple to work together to find solutions that meet their specific needs and circumstances.

4 – Constructive Problem-Solving

Mediation’s focus on constructive problem-solving is equally valuable for unmarried couples. The flexibility of mediation allows for tailored solutions that may not be possible through a rigid legal process.

By providing a neutral and collaborative environment, family mediation empowers couples to take control of their own futures, fostering resolutions that are more likely to be satisfactory and enduring.

Summary

It’s important to put aside the myth of common law marriage in England and recognise the legal distinctions between cohabitation and marriage. Understanding the lack of common-law marriage laws can prevent misconceptions and guide individuals to seek appropriate legal advice when needed.


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