What is a Common Law Partnership?

What is a Common Law Partnership?

The number of couples in common law partnerships is rising significantly across the UK. In fact, while 1.5 million couples considered themselves to be common law partners in 1996, that figure more than doubled to 3.5 million in 2020. Today, it’s estimated that 18% of cohabiting couples are choosing to be in a common law partnership, rather than deciding to enter into a civil partnership or get married.

Common Law, Civil Partnerships, and Marriage

Despite this rise in common law partnerships in the UK, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about what this partnership is, and how it differs from a civil partnership or marriage. Here is a brief breakdown of the three different terms:

  • Common Law Partnership

A common law partnership is simply another term for ‘cohabiting’ and is not a legally recognised partnership here in the UK. Any two non-related people who live in the same property can choose to call themselves common law partners, regardless of how long they have been together, without any form of registration or formalities. A common law partnership can be dissolved at any time, without the need to involve the courts or notify anyone of the breakdown of the relationship.

  • Civil Partnership

Unlike a common law partnership, a civil partnership is legally recognised, and can only be formed by formally registering the relationship. This type of partnership was introduced in 2004 as an alternative to marriage for same sex partners, as same sex marriage in the UK was prohibited at the time. In 2019, civil partnerships were extended to all couples. A civil partnership is very similar to marriage in terms of legal recognition and can only be broken through ‘dissolution’ or in the event of death.

  • Marriage

Marriage is a legally binding contract between two people, and is very similar to a civil partnership, with only two significant differences. The first is international recognition. While marriage will be recognised in most countries, a civil partnership may not be. The second is seen in terms of how a marriage can be ended, which is either in the event of death, or through divorce, rather than dissolution.

Your Rights as a Common Law Partner

Couples who are married or in a civil partnership all have the same legal rights should the partnership break down, or in the event of death. This is true in all areas of finances, property, and children. However, there are no such rights in a common law partnership, which means that separations can sometimes get quite messy, especially if the couple mistakenly believed that the partnership allowed them rights.

However, that shouldn’t be enough to deter couples from considering themselves common law partners if they feel that a civil partnership or marriage is not right for them. There are ways to ensure that both parties are legally protected and given rights in the event of a relationship breakdown or following the death of one party.

The easiest way to do this is through drawing up a ‘Living Together Agreement’. This can be done through a family law solicitor. The agreement sets out how money and property should be distributed in case of a relationship breakdown, and outlines any plans for child-care. Get in touch with us to find out more.

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