Divorce/separation – Myth 1

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Myth 1
‘’I am a ‘common law wife or husband’ and I am entitled to 50% of my partner’s assets’’.

Answer: No.

  • There is no such thing as a ‘common law wife or husband’. Yet worryingly, most cohabitees are totally unaware of this.
  • Many people believe that cohabiting or living with a partner for several years entitles them to some form of common law marriage giving them similar rights to those enjoyed by married couples. The answer is no, it does not.
  • Common-law marriages have not existed in England since 1753. But the strong but inaccurate belief that a period of living together gives legal protection still persists and I spend a lot of time dispelling this myth with clients.

Unmarried persons do not currently enjoy the same legal rights and protection that marriage provides. There is no automatic right by a cohabitee, if the relationship ends, to claim a share of property owned by the other partner or a lump sum, or regular maintenance payments.
Unless the cohabiting couple have a written agreement expressing clearly their percentage interests in any asset they own jointly or owned solely by their partner the courts have no power to redistribute the assets of a cohabiting couple regardless of how long the relationship has lasted.
For example a couple could cohabit for say 30 years during which time, one of them brings up their children and sacrifice their career prospects, while the other works and pays off the mortgage. If couple breaks up, the caregiver cannot claim anything from the earner, be it a lump sum or a share of the family home.