It is reported in today’s Times that nearly a third of people who live together did not know that they do not have the same rights as married partners. This is an area of law that we are seeing an increase in the number of enquiries we get, as more people decide to live together rather than get married explains Family Law Solicitor Sarah Thompson.
The short point is, there is no such thing as a common law spouse. You can live with someone for 50 years, but if you’re not married, you’re not entitled to anything just on the basis that you live with them. You don’t inherit on their death unless you’re named in their Will, you have no financial interest in their house unless you are on the title deeds or you can satisfy certain very limited legal criteria and you are not entitled to anything that is held in their sole name. The good news is that that includes debt, so no one’s going to come after you if your ex-partner fails to pay their credit card bill.
So is this right? Should there be such a seismic shift in the law when you get married? The short point is, marriage is a contract with benefits and liabilities; you literally do take the rough with the smooth, for richer for poorer. You share the highs and you share the lows. People who get married do so consciously and by agreement. They are a partnership and share the fruit of their joint ventures between them.
If you’re not married, you have chosen not to enter into a contract with each other, so in law it follows that you do not have the benefits or liabilities of each other. The advantage of not marrying someone is that you protect your assets – you’ll be far better protected than what any Pre-Nuptial Agreements can do. The disadvantages come when you want your partner to be financially secure after your death, if you don’t have a Will they won’t inherit a penny of your estate. If you have a pension and you’re not married, your pension dies with you (unless your pension administrators allow you to nominate a non-spouse to receive “spousal” income). There are also tax implications for transfer of properties and assets between non married couples, that would be exempt if the parties were married. If you aren’t married, you do need to arrange your affairs carefully if you want your partner to benefit from you – good legal advice from the start will save a lot of stress, worry and expense later on.
So it would appear, getting married is so much more than just a piece of paper.