Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Don't believe the urban myth

Cohabiting couples in Shropshire must not believe in the urban myth that by living together they will receive the same status as married couples.

Gemma Himsworth, who leads the family law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, is backing a national campaign to ask the government to change the law on cohabitation to bring it into the 21st century.

"As the law stands right now, there is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife, and couples who live together do not automatically have the same rights as a married couple or those in a civil partnership. But it’s time for change – and a coalition of legal organisations is calling on the government to take action.”

Mrs Himsworth is a member of Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers and other professionals who promote a non-confrontational approach to family problems.

“As an organisation, Resolution has joined forces with a wide range of other legal groups from across the UK to urge the government to review and change the rules on cohabiting to give couples – at the very least – basic legal protection.

“In England and Wales, currently one in eight adults is cohabiting, and that figure has steadily increased since 2002. But surveys have shown as many as two in three cohabiting couples are unaware there is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales.

“These couples think they have the same legal and financial rights and protections as married couples, but it’s just not the case.”

Mrs Himsworth said this lack of understanding could lead to significant problems if the relationship ends, or if one of the partners dies.

“It’s never clear from one case to the next whether the courts are going to allow a deceased person’s estate to pass on to a surviving cohabiting partner – even if they effectively lived together as husband and wife – so the situation certainly needs clarifying.

“Of course, the trauma of taking cases such as this through the courts can be easily avoided if couples who live together without being married ensure they have all the appropriate cohabitation agreements in place outlining who owns property, how bills are divided, and they prepare up-to-date wills.

“The last thing anyone wants to do, when they are dealing with the loss of a partner, is to find themselves facing what is bound to be an emotionally exhausting – and potentially expensive – legal battle.

“It’s no good assuming that just because you live with someone that they will automatically inherit after your death – for now, the system just doesn’t work like that.”