Couples have more and more options over the way they arrange their lives, with marriage (same and opposite sex), civil partnerships (only same sex at present but possibly opposite sex if the current lobby succeeds), and cohabitation and ‘common law marriage’. Each brings different levels of financial obligation and responsibility if the relationship breaks down. They range from marriage, with an equal sharing financial obligation, to cohabitation, with no financial claim arising from the relationship unless there are children or one party dies. Then, bizarrely, there is a claim against the estate of the other.
Despite recent statistics revealing that cohabitating couples are the fastest-growing family type in the UK, the level of ignorance has not improved, going by the number of times over the last 30 years as a family lawyer I have had to tell a client who believes she is a ‘common law wife’ that she has no financial claim for herself.
We give school children sex education lessons to try to stop the number of teen births. Surely, we should also teach children about relationships and the financial responsibility which comes with marriage? Or, more importantly, the fact that if there is no marriage or civil partnership, the financial claims are severely limited.
Frances Sieber, Family partner, Spring Law, London WC2