About Common Law Marriage

What is a common law marriage?

 In short, there is no such thing in English law as a “common law marriage”. A common law marriage can break up without the intervention of a court.

Although the number of people choosing to live together is on the increase, the law does not automatically protect people who live together under law if their relationship breaks down, irrespective of the length of time they have lived together. If their relationship breaks up, the law will treat them as individuals with no rights or liabilities to one another unless they have made special provisions (or in the case of gay people, enter into a civil partnership).

In some cases, a religious marriage is insufficient and for a marriage to be legally binding a civil marriage will also be necessary.

For more information regarding common law marriage, go to the page on cohabitation.

The future

The government asked the Law Commission to assess the rights of so-called common law spouses and in July 2007 they concluded that the law ought to be changed so that courts would have the power to redistribute assets when a couple splits up, but not by so much that they should get the same rights as married couples.

They said that such powers could be applicable when:

  • The couple had been together for a certain amount of time (the recommended minimum was suggested to be in the range of two to five years);
  • The couple had children together;
  • One had made a significant contribution to the relationship.

It was proposed that any scheme should be based on the contributions made to the relationship by a person and not on the basis of the financial needs of either person, as is the case in a divorce. Also, there would be no need for either party to support the other in the future and no requirement for the people to share their assets equally.

Nonetheless, these are merely suggestions. Whether they ever become law or not is still undecided.