The rise of cohabiting couples has continued in the UK, with the numbers growing by 25% to 3.4 million families from 2008 to 2018.
Cohabiting couples however still only represent 18 per cent of the UK’s 19.1 million families. Marriages and civil partnerships remain the most common structure and, as such, represent two-thirds of all families. Although only 10 years ago, marriages and civil partnerships accounted for almost 70 per cent of families.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners warn that only marriage and civil partnerships grant legal rights and responsibilities to partners, at least in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland updated its law to reflect the number of unmarried cohabiting couples with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, but it does not provide the same matrimonial rights as married persons have.
Despite the common myth, common-law marriage is not recognised by the law of England and Wales or Northern Ireland, in fact common-law marriage was abolished in 1753. You need to be married or in a civil partnership to rely on the law for dividing up finances if you split up or if one of you dies. It makes no difference if you have children with the person you live with.
It is therefore imperative for those who are unmarried to ensure they have a valid Will in place providing for their partner, as the law simply does not recognise cohabiting couples where there is no Will. Should one party to the relationship pass away without a Will, it can leave the surviving partner in a very difficult position.