‘No such thing as common law marriage’

Millions of cohabiting couples wrongly assume they have certain rights, the government has warned.

The call is part of an attempt to correct widely held assumptions about couple’s legal rights following the publication of a survey showing 50.7 per cent of people believe couples living together for a few years gain the same rights as married couple.

“People living together should not assume that they will automatically have the same rights as married couples or civil partners,” said justice minister Bridget Prentice.

“In court, there is no such thing as a common law marriage.”

The survey, by Expedia and Match.com, found most people believed ‘common law marriage’ had a recognised legal status. Many also believed having a child together triggers certain legal rights.

In reality, certain rights are reserved only for those couples who marry or enter into a civil partnership.

Without a will, non-married couples can inherit nothing if their partner dies. Similarly, someone with no financial stake in a property has no rights if their relationship breaks down, regardless of how many years they have spent there.

Two million couples cohabit in England and Wales, with one in four children being born to unmarried couples.