Common Law Marriage Misconceptions

Common Law Marriage Misconceptions

Many people believe that living together like a married couple provides legal protections, such as an entitlement to a share of their partner’s property should the couple split up. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. Only those who are married or in a civil partnership gain these protections. What can be done to ensure you are protected should a relationship come to an end?


If an unmarried couple decide to separate, both parties will want or feel they deserve a split of the property they were living in and the money saved. However, if you are living in a property owned by your partner, you have no entitlement to any part of that property if you are not married.

In addition, the law will assume that any money belongs to whoever holds the particular bank account. A claim over money held in another person’s bank account could be complex and potentially costly.

Upon separation, child maintenance for any children of the couple is always payable. However, only married partners are entitled to claim ongoing spousal maintenance. Unmarried couples may find that they are not entitled to any money from the relationship, which can be particularly distressing if that person has contributed to the relationship for years. For example, a mother who gave up her career to care for the children would receive child maintenance, but potentially nothing else to support her following the split, despite the huge contribution made to the family.


The same scenario applies if one partner in an unmarried couple dies. If the deceased owned property, there is no automatic entitlement for any part of the property to pass to you if you are not named in their Will as a beneficiary. If you owned the property as Tenants in Common, the deceased’s share of the property would not automatically pass to you as it would with a married couple. Any savings or other assets would also not automatically pass to you, and you would then have to make an application to the Court to be treated as a dependent, which could prove costly.

In addition, as an unmarried partner you would not be entitled to any state bereavement benefit or a percentage of your partner’s state pension, as a married couple would.

Other Benefits

Married couples are exempt from paying capital gains tax if they transfer property to one another. Married couples can also leave their entire estate to their surviving spouse in the event they die, without inheritance tax becoming payable. These exemptions to do not apply to unmarried couples.

Protecting Yourself as an Unmarried Couple

Many people do not wish to enter into marriage or a civil partnership, but everyone wants to know they are protected should the relationship end or a death occur. In this situation, it would be wise to look into creating a declaration of trust or a cohabitation agreement. These are methods of drawing up legally enforceable agreements on how property and assets should be divided in the event that the relationship ends or a death occurs.

Formal agreements on these issues, for which you may wish to seek legal advice, would mean that you gave give yourself similar protections to those enjoyed by married couples.

Coming to formal agreements with those you love could seem awkward, but armed with the necessary information and knowledge it is always better to be prepared and have clarity, and avoid potentially costly disputes should the worst happen.

Gareth specialises in Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution, and can assist where such problems have arisen. He can be contacted at or on 01702 348 384.

To ensure these problems do not arise, Frances White can offer specialised conveyancing advice and assistance at the point of purchase. She can be contacted at or on 01702 348 384.

Nothing in this publication should be regarded by any person as advice or in the nature of advice: it should not be relied on; and the author assumes no liability whatsoever to any person.

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Kathryn Pavitt


*Kathryn is currently on maternity leave but please contact us and another fee earner will be happy to assist you until her return to the office*

Kathryn is an affiliate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and is a qualified Residential Conveyancing Paralegal. Since joining the firm in 2009 as a secretary, she has attained these qualifications whilst providing support to the Conveyancing and Probate departments, with the ultimate aim of qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive.

Kathryn is a mother to a young child and in her spare time she enjoys cooking and spending time with friends and family.

Val Nunn


Val has more than 30 years’ experience working in legal departments, with 25 spent as secretary then PA to Margaret Ridley.

More recently, Val has run her own body of matrimonial cases and following Margaret’s retirement as a partner, continues in this role and also as PA to Peter Fisher and Debbie Stanton.

She has extensive experience of dealing with all aspects of family matters and of assisting with high value and complex financial issues.

As well as her work, Val enjoys spending time with her family, football as a supporter of both Arsenal and Southend United, reading, entertaining and dining out.

Gareth Brazier LLB (Hons)

Associate Solicitor

Gareth qualified as a Solicitor in 2012 and has many years of civil litigation experience, having previously worked in the City of London advising major insurers on a range of issues including road traffic accidents, industrial accidents and the defence of fraudulent claims. He has experience of handling serious and complex claims as well as acting for individuals and businesses alike.

Gareth provides a detailed and thorough service for private and business clients in a wide range of disputes. He always seeks innovative and cost effective solutions for clients whenever possible, but where agreement or mediation is not possible his robust approach to litigation can secure the right outcome.

Gareth has four young children, and when not enjoying time with family he spends time on outdoor pursuits such as running, hiking and clay pigeon shooting.

Peter Fisher FRSA

Solicitor / Consultant

Peter qualified as a solicitor in 1969 and had been with the firm throughout his professional life, becoming a partner in 1971 and senior partner in 1994. Peter retired from Partnership in 2015 to become a consultant, and is pleased to take on new work and still has a significant caseload.

Peter’s speciality is family law and he is a member of Resolution (The Solicitors’ Family Law Association). He is very experienced in dealing with complex matrimonial cases, whether these involve structuring financial settlements or handling sensitive child issues. A number of his cases have been published in law reports, including a case which has stood the test of time as the benchmark for unreasonable behaviour as a ground for divorce.

Besides sitting for a number of years as a Deputy District Judge, Peter is also experienced in the preparation of wills and lasting Powers of Attorney.

Peter and his wife have three adult children and four grandchildren. For more than twenty five years Peter was a governor of Thorpe Hall School, a local independent school. A life-long Anglican, he has been much involved with the affairs of the Church of England and is a churchwarden of the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Leigh on Sea. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a keen photographer. He enjoys walking in the UK and abroad, and aged over 65 years he completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks in a very respectable time. He has also devised and walked a coast to coast from Harwich to the Bristol Channel and an up-England trek from the English Channel to Lake Windermere.

Frances White LLB (Hons)

Partner / Solicitor

Frances qualified as a solicitor in 1978, having trained with the firm’s founder and former senior partner, Mervyn Beecham. She became a partner in 1979 and has worked with the practice ever since.

A member of Avenue Baptist Church for over 45 years, Frances continues to undertake legal work for various local churches and the community. She was previously a member of the management committee which established the YMCA hostel in Southend.

Frances has a Bachelor of Laws Degree, with upper second class honours, from the University of Newcastle. She was also awarded honours on passing her final solicitor’s examinations with four distinctions.

She is a member of The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). Also the Law Society’s Property Section and Private Client Section, which are representative associations for members.

Frances enjoys gardening, baking, the theatre and many types of music. She has no children but has recently become a great aunt three times over!

Debbie Stanton LLB (Hons)

Partner / Solicitor

Debbie qualified as a solicitor in 2004 since when she has specialised in Family Law with a particular interest in resolving financial aspects within divorce/co-habitation/ civil partnerships and disputes involving children. Debbie joined the firm in May 2010 and was brought into Partnership in November 2011.

As a member of Resolution, Debbie is committed to providing a personal, non-confrontational and supportive service.

Debbie’s outside interests include interior design, gardening, reading and socialising with family and friends.

Since January 2016 Debbie has been a trustee for HARP, an established charity which is committed to eradicating homelessness in Southend. As part of her role as Trustee, Debbie attends regular monthly meetings which deal with the general day to day running of the charity.