The legal benefit of marriage over cohabitation

Published: May 5th, 2023

7 min read

Cohabitating families are the fastest growing family type in the UK today. Since 1996, the number of couples opting to cohabit as opposed to marry has increased 144% with over 3.6 million families adopting the modern family type.

With the average cost of a wedding standing at £18,400, the institution of marriage is witnessing a consistent decline in millennial couples. However, it is important not to get caught up in the myth of the "common-law marriage". Couples who choose to cohabit long term to not develop the same legal right as those who marry.

There are many benefits of opting not to marry, such as avoiding the high costs of nuptials, and the risk of further expense if the marriage ends in divorce. With over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, couples may feel the odd's do not make the risk worth taking. Despite this, there are some legal benefits to opting into marriage.

Upon Separation

When a couple divorces, their assets will enter a marital pool to be divided between the two. This provides security to parties who may have relied on their spouse's income support. Cohabitating couples do not have the same right to each other's property. This means that each party chooses to walk away from the relationship with what they consider there's. While this provides additional security to those who hold greater assets in the relationship, it may leave those who depend on their partners salary in a tricky financial situation.

Upon Death

When a spouse dies interstate (without a Will), their assets will all pass on to the surviving partner. This means that there is no necessity to make a Will for the benefit of their marital partner. However, with cohabitating couples this is not the case. Even if a couple have cohabitated for over 50 years, there is no guarantee that they will have any benefit from their partners assets. In situations where the surviving partner was dependent on the deceased partners salary, they would have no right to inherit any of the money in the deceased's estate. Where the surviving partner has been living in the deceased partner's property, they could be moved out of the property by the beneficiary of the property.

Couples who choose not to marry way wish to acquire some of the legal benefits of marriage through entering into a cohabitation agreement or writing a Will for the benefit of their spouse. It is always important to have an open conversation with your partner to ensure that all available avenues are explored.

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