We spoke to Joe Ferguson, solicitor at JMW Solicitors and member of the MYP Committee, about the common law marriage myth and ways to protect yourself if, like many, you’re choosing to cohabit without marriage.

We all know the story: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they move in together, they marry.

Or maybe they don’t marry.

More and more people are deciding to live together without marrying. The proportion of people who live in a couple that are cohabiting is now nearly a quarter of all couples living together according to the Office of National Statistics, which is a 144% jump from 1996. Cohabiting, for the avoidance of doubt, is any couple living together who are not married.

So why the jump?

Well the reasons are multiple. Some people reject the concept of marriage, others are focused on other goals and ambitions, and others are engaged and saving for the big day. Whatever the reason, people are cohabiting.

So what is the big deal?

Well, cohabitation gives no general legal status to a couple, unlike married couples or those who are part of a civil partnership.

What about “common law marriage”?

Common law marriage is a myth, and a dangerous one at that. Remember that scene in the Sex and the City movie where that lady auctions her stuff off because her long term boyfriend kicked her out? Yikes. And if you move your partner into your property? They may have a claim against your property and it can lead to costly, acrimonious and stressful court proceedings.

So what is the solution?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do to safeguard your position, until the law catches up to life within the ring road.

Cohabitation Agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document between couples who are living together. This agreement can set out arrangements for finances, property and children during the relationship and after it breaks down also. So figuring out, ahead of time, who gets the money from the joint bank account, who will pay the utility bills and, perhaps most importantly, who gets the house and the dog. A cohabitation agreement can also set out expectations for child arrangements, to avoid costly court proceedings.

Provided that they are drafted and executed properly, cohabitation agreements can be legally binding contracts. All told, it can be a very versatile document and a worthwhile investment to avoid conflict and cost later down the line.

Declaration of Trust

If you are just looking to confirm the terms of the ownership of a property, a declaration of trust may be for you. So for instance if one person put 75% of the deposit into the property, it can record this reality.

Conversations about these solutions can be tough but it’s worth having them today, to avoid the worst tomorrow. Reach out to Joe at JMW Solicitors if you’re looking for more advice.