According to analysis by NatCen Social Research, cohabiting couples (both opposite and same-sex couples) are the fastest growing type of family, more than doubling from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017, with 15% of dependent children living in cohabiting couple families.
In England and Wales, cohabitants have no legal status and, therefore, no automatic rights in most circumstances, especially if the relationship comes to an end. For example, if one partner dies there’s no right for the other to inherit part of their estate, despite how long they have lived together and even if they had children together. Equally, there is no exemption for tax purposes and no legal duty to support the partner financially.
Yet almost half of people (46%) living in England and Wales are unaware that this is the case and think that an unmarried cohabiting couple have a “common law marriage” with the same legal rights as a married couple, according to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. This figure is largely unchanged since 2005.
The data also shows that people living in households with children are significantly more likely to think that common law marriage exists than those in households with no children (55% vs 41%) and singles (39%). Worryingly, cohabitants (48%) are no more clued up than married people (49%).
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