Not everyone gets married; cohabiting and civil partnerships are a popular option for many couples and families.

There is also a common public misconception that unmarried or cohabiting couples enjoy similar rights to married couples. This is sometimes referred to as ‘common law marriage’ or ‘common law husband’ or ‘common law wife’. This is not the case and has no foundation in law.

Does The Law Treat Cohabitation And Marriage In The Same Way?

In financial terms those couples who marry and subsequently divorce have the benefit of the legal protections of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Same-sex couples enjoy the protections of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. This is a legal partnership that can be registered by two people who aren’t related to each other.

There is no equivalent coherent body of law available to cohabitants. The law relating to cohabiting couples has developed in a piecemeal fashion to deal with their arrangements on relationship breakdown.

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External Resources


Information on your rights when living together.


These pages explain the rules about getting married and forming a civil partnership and your rights when you live together as a couple without getting married. Includes rights for same-sex partners.