Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 15:50 UK

Cohabiting couples' rights alert

Couple
Common law marriage has not been recognised since 1753

A campaign has been launched to stress to cohabiting partners that they do not have the same rights as married couples if they separate or one of them dies.

Two million couples cohabit in England and Wales with one in four children being born to unmarried couples.

The Ministry of Justice campaign is urging couples to be aware of their rights when they start living together.

A survey suggested that half of those asked wrongly believed that common law marriage was a recognised legal status.

"People living together should not assume that they will automatically have the same rights as married couples or civil partners," said Justice Minister Bridget Prentice.

"In court there is no such thing as a common law marriage."

Property

Common law marriage, or a version of it, has not been recognised in law since 1753.

Wedding rings
Marriage and civil partnerships lead to certain rights

Despite the rules, many people incorrectly believe that having children together leads to legal status.

Pensions, tax and benefits are all affected by a couple's domestic situation.

Unless one partner in a cohabiting couple makes a will, the surviving partner might not inherit anything if their partner dies.

And if someone has no financial stake in a property, they have no right to it if the relationship breaks down, even if they have lived there for many years.

The Ministry said the issue was particularly pertinent during the summer as a series of surveys had suggested that relationship break-ups were more common following holidays.

In 2006, a report by the Law Commission, which reviews legislation in England and Wales, proposed that cohabiting couples be offered more legal rights.

It suggested couples without children should have lived together for at least two years for them to be able to make a financial claim.

Critics claimed it would undermine marriages.


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