The Common Law Marriage Myth

Sally Clark Blog

Unmarried couples often refer to themselves as having a common law marriage, however it is extremely important to know that in England and Wales, common law marriages are a myth. Unmarried couples do not have the same rights and protection as married couples.

At Barnes Clark Family Law, we specialise in dealing with issues following the breakdown of your relationship and provide up to date expertise to guide you to a resolution. Read more about legal advice for unmarried couples.

Which area of law governs separation for unmarried couples?

Unless you have children, your legal rights as to finances are governed by trust and property law and not family law.

What about our property?

The starting point is that if property is in your sole name, the other party does not have any legal interest in it. They may however be able to claim a beneficial interest in the property, for example if they have contributed to the purchase price, made payments towards the mortgage or can show that other contributions have been made. This is a very complex area, but something our solicitors can advise you on, in detail.

Where property is held in joint names, both parties have an interest in the property, as will be evidenced by the property title. Usually property is held equally as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’, but it is important to note that parties can hold property as ‘tenants in common’ with unequal shares, meaning one party may have a larger interest in the property. Usually, there will be written evidence documenting this.

We have children – does this change things?

If you and your partner have children together, you may be able to make a claim under Sch 1 of the Children Act 1989. This meaning a property can be purchased or preserved for your children. It is important to note that any claim has to be made on behalf of your children – not you.

Within this, you may be able to seek an order that you stay in the property or your former partner assists you in re-housing. Any assistance would then revert back to them a future point in time or pass directly to your children. If you are concerned that your former partner may make a claim, it is important for you to seek early legal advice.

Can I get spousal maintenance?

In short, no. For unmarried couples, there is no jurisdiction for income related payments to be paid to you by your former spouse.

If you have children, you may be entitled to receive child maintenance payments from your former partner. This is governed by the Child Maintenance Service and they can assist in determining what payments should be made. They can also help you if your former partner fails to make payments.

For further information, or to arrange an appointment please contact us on 01274 861096 (Liversedge) or 01423 637272 (Harrogate) or email Please note that we offer a free half an hour consultation.