Whether you’re setting up home with the love of your life, or perhaps you’ve been living together for a while and are thinking about starting a family, it may seem a little pessimistic to plan for the things that could go wrong.

But, as we all know, things do go wrong, and research has shown that almost 50 per cent of people in England and Wales believe long-term cohabitation leads to legal rights – this is simply not the case.

At Cartridges Law we still see many clients who think they enjoy the same rights if they are living together as married couples do. In fact, that is far from the truth and long-term cohabitating couples should always seek legal advice to ensure they are protected by a living together agreement or co-habitation agreement.

Partner Penny Scott, who is chair of the Law Society of England and Wales Family Law Committee, recently explored the issue in a letter which was published by The Times.

In it she says: ‘These figures have remained virtually unchanged for 14 years, making ‘common law’ marriage one of the most pervasive legal myths.

‘The idea that unmarried cohabiting couples are granted legal rights originates from when it was less socially acceptable for couples to live together and raise children out of wedlock. ‘Common law’ marriage has no legal status and if the couple decides to separate, the division of finances, property and debts can be complicated. As more couples choose cohabitation, it is vital to dispel the myth of a ‘common law’ marriage’.

The findings from this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research, reveal that 46 per cent of the public are under the impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage. The figure has remained largely unchanged since 2005, despite a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples. In contrast, only 41 per cent of respondents rightly said that cohabiting couples are not in a common law marriage.

Cohabiting couples now account for the fastest growing type of household and the number of cohabiting couple families with dependent children more than doubled in the last decade. Without legal protection when the relationship breaks down it can often result in severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party.

So, when you’re snuggled up on the sofa in your new house, planning a family, or dreaming of a wonderful life together, make sure you consider the legal aspects of this – to protect both you and your partner.

For details of the National Centre for Social Research report, click here.

Contact our Family Law team at Cartridges Law to discuss your situation 01392 286789 or email enquiries@cartridgeslaw.co.uk