12 April 2023

Is Common Law Marriage Recognised in the UK?

Common Law Marriage

It may come as a surprise to many that common law marriage does not exist in the United Kingdom. This means couples not officially married or in a civil partnership do not have any legal rights or protection that a lawful marriage or civil partnership would offer.

Our Surrey solicitors have put together a guide that explores what it means for couples who choose to live together without getting married, as well as how they can protect themselves for the future.

What is Common Law Marriage?

The exact definition of common law marriage will vary depending on the country or state in which it is recognised.

In general, it is defined as a type of marriage in which a couple lives together for a certain period of time and states they are married, despite not having obtained legal marriage/civil partnership certification or having a formal wedding ceremony.

Is Common Law Marriage Recognised in the UK?

The United Kingdom does not recognise common law marriage. Couples that wish to have legal recognition of their relationship must obtain a formal license and have a legally binding ceremony.

Differences in Scotland

Since 2006, the law in Scotland has differed from the rest of the UK. The key points that differ in Scotland are:

  • Any household goods purchased during the time the couple lived together will be considered jointly owned, and each partner’s share will be divided equally.
  • Financial arrangements will be made to account for decisions made during the relationship, such as if one partner took time off from their career for childcare.
  • Provisions will be put in place to protect surviving partners in matters relating to estates, providing legal safeguards for cohabiting partners in the event of a death without a will.

You should always consult a solicitor to establish the law in your area.

Where is Common Law Marriage Recognised?

This type of marriage is recognised as a legal status in some countries, providing certain rights and protections to the couple. In the United States, common-law marriage is recognised in some states, including Alabama, Kansas, Colorado, and Texas. Here, couples who meet certain criteria can enjoy many of the same legal benefits as married couples, including:

  • Tax benefits: this may include filing joint tax returns or claiming spousal deductions.
  • Inheritance benefits: spouses may have the right to inherit property when the partner dies without a will.
  • The ability to make medical decisions for one another.
  • Property rights: both partners may have legal rights to property acquired during the relationship.
  • Parental rights

Simply living together or referring to each other as “husband” or “wife” does not create a common law marriage. The couple must meet the specific requirements of the area they live in.

What Can Cohabiting Couples Do to Protect Themselves?

Couples living together without a formal marriage do not have the same legal rights and protections as married or civil-partnered couples. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your assets.

Creating a cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement will establish the couple’s rights and responsibilities towards each other in the event of separation. It covers finances, property and what will happen to your children if you were to split or if either partner was to become ill or pass away.

Making a will

If one partner dies without a will, the surviving partner may not inherit any assets or property. By creating a will, you can ensure the surviving partner is provided for.

Property joint ownership

If the cohabitating couple buys a property together, they could consider joint ownership. This will ensure both partners have a legal stake in the property.

Seeking legal advice

It is advisable for cohabiting couples to seek legal advice from a solicitor to fully understand their legal rights and obligations in their specific circumstances.

For more information on prenuptial agreements, contact our experienced team of Surrey solicitors

our lawyers deliver an excellent quality service, independently recognised by The Law Society and our many returning clients.

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