There is a popular belief that couples who live together become “common law” husband and wife. There is however no such legal status. The rights afforded to married couples upon a breakdown, and the legislation used to deal with financial arrangements is not the same as those for couples who live together.
It has recently been reported in the Independent newspaper that there are currently more than two million cohabiting couples in England and Wales. Should our legal system be adapted in light of this social change? Sir Nicholas Wall, a senior family judge, thinks it should. He is concerned about the legal difficulties that cohabiting couples face when they break up and in his opinion, the Coalition government should enact the recommendations of the Law Commission in 2007, which called for legal protection for separated partners, especially those with children.
However many couples cohabit precisely because they do not want to have a contractual obligation with each other or with the state. So how can they protect themselves in the event of their relationship breaking down? There are a number of ways in which cohabiting couples can protect their rights in respect of property and other assets, and perhaps instead of changing the law, there should be greater emphasis on educating people of these.