Am I a Common-Law Spouse?

The phrases ‘common law husband’ and ‘common law wife’ are used on a frequent basis. However, contrary to popular belief, they are not legal terms and have no legal meaning or effect.

Rather, there are specific rules that apply when people who are living together and who are not married, separate. These rules are different from those that apply on the separation of married persons.

The law relating to cohabiting, unmarried couples in England and Wales is considered by many to be somewhat out of date and not reflective of the way that many people live in modern day society.

It is important therefore that the arrangements that are made when a cohabiting couple separate cater for both their needs and those of any children.

It is advisable that when a couple are cohabiting, they consider certain practical issues, for example, if one person owns a property in their sole name, is it intended that this property will benefit both people in the event of a separation? Should steps be taken to reflect this in legal terms? If the couple intend to buy a house together, what will their individual contributions be? What about business interests? How should personal belongings be divided and the repayment of liabilities dealt with in the event of a separation?

These issues, and others, can be addressed and set out in a written agreement between cohabiting couples which is known as a Cohabitation Agreement.

Gardner Croft has extensive experience of dealing with issues affecting cohabiting couples, both prior to and following a separation. If you are in a dispute with your former partner, you would like advice about the legal position if you separate, or about preparing a Cohabitation Agreement, contact us today.

Written by: Joanna Illingworth