Latest stats on Common Law Marriage – the Truth behind the Myth
According to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK.
The ONS released on 28 January 2015 its Household and Families 2014 statistical bulletin.
According to the data Cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014 – the fastest growing type of family in the UK.
The Truth behind the Myth
Do Cohabitees realise that they don’t have the same protection as married couples?
Although there is no such thing as common law marriage in UK law, 51% of respondents to the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2008 thought that unmarried couples who live together for some time probably or definitely had a ‘common law marriage’ which gives them the same legal rights as married couples, although this is not legally the case.
The cohabitation rights bill which addresses the rights of cohabiting couples is currently in the early stages of passing through parliament, but the issue remains politically sensitive and some critics fear that this long awaited change could undermine the institution of marriage.
“The government’s decision is both disappointing and frustrating.” Is the view expressed by Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer Kim Beatson. “Marriage rates have fallen to an all time low and there is a rise in the number of people cohabiting year on year. Children born to unmarried couples who separate can be vulnerable and the need for law reform is long overdue. The government’s refusal to act is all the more illogical as cohabiting couples who separate often find themselves dependant on the state for help with housing and other living expenses.
As the law stands, arguments about whether a cohabitant has an interest in property are expensive and protracted. In the absence of direct financial contributions to the purchase price, it is very difficult to secure a remedy and the only safe way forward is for cohabitants to ensure that both names are on the title deeds to any property and that the position on contributions is documented.” Kim Beatson, Anthony Gold Solicitors
The solution: a Living Together Agreement
But even if a couple knows they have no rights, will they want to make their own legal agreement?
Suzy Miller lived for 10 years with her partner with whom she had 3 children, and she was aware that she had less rights, yet still failed to create her own agreement.
“I didn’t realise just how few rights I had – like no maintenance payments, no rights to his pension – but the main reason I did nothing was I just didn’t believe we would ever breakup. Seems silly looking back on it!”
Together cohabiting couple families account for 16.4% of all families in the UK.
The ONS bulletin also reveals that there were nearly 3.0 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families and 84,000 same sex cohabiting couple families in the UK in 2014. For opposite sex cohabiting couple families there has been a statistically significant increase from 13% of all families in 2004 to 16% in 2014.
“By accessing the same level of professional and holistic support and guidance that couples benefit from when they take a healthy route through divorce, those of you who are wanting to create a Postnuptial Agreement or a Cohabitation Agreement can make future provisions for your children whether your relationship stays together or not.
But most of all, the process itself can be very healing and empowering. I believe that creating a Cohabitation Agreement or Postnup can actually strengthen the relationship. The process increases communication and that leads to more trust and transparency. It also means you get your finances properly organised and a Will and other important things that if not done, can become the root cause of issues later down the line, particularly if one of the couple goes into debt. Talking to financial experts and life coaches can be a great way to make the process easier and empowering.”
Suzy Miller: www.LivingTogetherAgreement.com
“Coaching can help you to clarify your discussions when creating a postnup or a cohabitation agreement. For example help you to establish your boundaries, what you’re each willing to do, or not do, when it comes to finances, commitments and running your home together etc. A coach can help you gain a clear understanding of all the different aspects of these kind of things so that there are no grey areas which could create challenges later.” Joy Fahey, New Beginnings Coaching
“Creating a Living Together Agreement – whether to protect your family’s future if you are not married, or because you want to create your own pre- or postnup, is a positive life affirming action. Coaching is a powerful tool to help people to create their Living Together Agreement.” Sue Terry: Metroline Coaching
“No matter how long you’ve been together, you don’t have the same legal rights as a married couple and you may have little legal protection should you split up. This is where a Living Together Agreement comes in. A life coach can help you to be clear on what your priorities should be in creating a long term life plan together.” Claudia Crawley: Winning Pathways Coaching
There is more than just splitting the finances involved in a Living Together Agreement. According to Suzy Miller of Living Together Agreement.com, people should be creating a positive Life Plan and from that, include some ‘what if’ scenarios, such as dying, and leaving each other. For example, what will happen to elderly relatives whether you stay together or split? Cheryl Carter of Every Home Matters UK provides a service which is invaluable to the families of elderly relatives. She talks about re-homing elderly relatives, organising the home improvements needed to keep them at home or moving them into the homes of relatives which may need to be adapted. All this needs to be discussed and agreed upon during the creation of a thorough Life Plan and Living Together Agreement.
A real life horror story
A real life example of what can go wrong is shared in in this video interview with Mediator and Arbitrator Nadia Beckett of Beckett Solicitors LLP. Nadia explains the down-sides of not being married when you have a family to care for, and also what you can do about it, and relates the frightening story of a mother in hospital giving birth, whose partner and father of her children changed the locks on the family home – legally – which would not be the case if they had been legally married:
Too Complicated? Too Scarey?
But what if there are complex financial or inheritance issues that can’t be agreed on? Or one of you may want to move abroad with the children if there was a split?
A financial planner can help you understand the different options, and they often don’t charge for initial conversations where you work out what you need to do next:
“I have deep and lengthy personal experience of going through the full divorce process including four separate court hearings, and I would now like to utilise my knowledge in this area, supplementing it with my accountancy and financial adviser qualifications, and help guide couples who are creating a Cohabitation Agreement to avoid later conflict. I offer no fee consultation meetings until such a time as the client is ready to make financial decisions re. investments, tax planning, pensions etc; which makes me not only highly qualified to support clients with their financial planning, but also they can talk and meet with me with no obligation or cost whilst they ascertain what services they may or may not need.” Peter Greenwood, Greenwood Wealth Solutions” Peter Greenwood, Greenwood Wealth Solutions
“If there are children involved you may need to work out who the children will be living with – do you want to remain fairly close to each other so the children can alternate between both houses? Do you need to have two houses to accommodate everyone? These are all things that an advisor can aim to help you calculate if they are possible.” Sheila Bailey: Willow Private Finance
“Seeing the correct professional is not as daunting as you may think. We don’t expect you to know anything or everything – your needs and objectives are the most important thing to us and we will do all we can to help you to meet those goals. The meeting is at our expense, therefore no charge to the client.” Lottie Kent,Riverside Financial Consultants
The role of Collaborative Law
What if a couple get stuck and can’t agree?
If you can’t agree for whatever reason on how to divide assets or on decisions about the children, and you would prefer to have legal advice at hand, then Collaborative Law provides a good framework for keeping those discussions amicable.
Kim Beatson is also a Collaborative Lawyer, and she recommends the collaborative process for resolving disputes over property and children matters:
“Collaborative law has to be an attractive option for former cohabitants where arrangements for children are concerned and particularly disputes over property. Currently, former cohabitants only have recourse to the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA) and Schedule 1 of the Children Act. The former is expensive and the case law shows the outcome to be entirely unpredictable. The latter only covers financial provision for children and the outcome may be harsh to the primary carer. This is particularly so where there has been long term cohabitation and the primary parent has suffered financial consequences such as loss of career and pension rights.
The collaborative law process enables the couple to look to examine their own idea of fairness as between the adults and also to ensure a good parenting relationship going forward.” Kim Beatson, Anthony Gold Solicitors
Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator John Stebbing also believes that Cohabitation agreements should be more common:
“You will organise all your family celebrations….. well, why not organise your whole lives through agreement too? A Cohabitation Agreement will do this in a fail-safe way. It is so much more reassuring that if the Cohabitation adventure sadly ends, you and your partner know exactly what is to happen to the assets you have acquired. Potentially the visit to the lawyers and all the costs involved, can be avoided. You will both know where you stand. Agreements prior to Cohabitation, or marriage, even after a split, are perfect examples of a healthy collaboration. To collaborate together to reorganise your lives, and give those agreements legal weight – this makes obvious sense. The Collaborative Law model is there for you to use, so don’t hesitate to find out more about it.” John Stebbing, Stephen Rimmer LLP
Is there too much stigma around breakup?
The stigma around divorce and breakup – seen as a ‘failure’ of a relationship, is a real issue when it comes to persuading couples to create a Living Together Agreement, according to Suzy Miller.
She believes that people prefer to stick their heads in the sand – as she did for 10 years – rather than accept that seperation can happen and we need to protect the family structure through an agreement, which allows that family to not become a ‘broken’ family, but instead evolve into an ‘extended’ family.
“It is seen as sensible to create a Will when you have children, yet, statistically, a person in a living together relationship is at least 5 times more likely to leave the relationship alive than dead, so a Cohabitation Agreement should be seen as just as sensible and socially acceptable as creating a Will.”
“Remember folks – Divorce and Separation are a Station – Not a Destination. Get a map for the full journey, with all it’s twists and turns, and you’ll be able to swop postcards at the end of the adventure will love and laughter, rather than bitterness.” Suzy Miller: www.LivingTogetherAgreement.com
Other key findings from the ONS include:
- In 2014 there were 18.6 million families in the UK. Of these, 12.5 million were married couple families. This is the most common family type in the UK.
- In 2014 there were 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK. Women accounted for 91% of lone parents with dependent children.
- There were 26.7 million households in the UK in 2014. 28% of these contained only one person.
- Households containing two or more families were the fastest growing household type in the decade to 2014, increasing by 56% to 313,000 households.
A free Living Together Agreement can be downloaded here…..