Linda emails to ask: “I have a few dearly loved young relatives in their 30s who have partners; some also have children together.
They think they have a common law marriage — is that true?”
Paul Lewis replies: Common law marriage does not exist, Linda, though they are commonly believed in.
Couples who live together for decades sharing their lives and finances and perhaps having children together nevertheless have none of the rights that married couples do.
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However, since last month, opposite-sex couples can form a civil partnership, which gives them all the rights of marriage.
Civil partnerships used to be confined to same-sex couples but no longer. These days any couple can go to their local register office to give notice and 28 days later they can return there to have their civil partnership formally registered.
From that moment they get the same rights as married couples to inherit pensions, leave each other everything without paying Inheritance Tax, and claim bereavement benefits.
They can also give each other money or property with no tax consequences. If their relationship ends (it’s called dissolution, not divorce), they have the same rights to a fair and equal distribution of their property and money and in some cases to maintenance.