Common Law – What does it mean?

‘Common Law’ partners do not have the same legal rights as married or civil partners.

The government has this week confirmed that new legislation is to be introduced in England and Wales which will allow heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships.

This reform will provide those couples who do not wish to marry the option to formalise their relationship and benefit from rights and protections which would otherwise not be afforded to them.

In the UK, there are currently 3.3 million couples co-habiting, many of whom hold the misconception that if they live together, they are classed as ‘Common Law’ partners and therefore have the same legal rights as if they were married or civil partners – this is not the case.

In fact, these couples do not benefit from any of the following:

  • Automatic ‘spouses pension rights’ upon death if no nomination has been made
  • Automatic rights to any assets held in the sole name of the other party, including property – This may mean that they do not even have the right to stay in the property if they are cohabiting with no agreement in place
  • Inheritance under the intestacy rules (where no will is in place).

With the introduction of the new legislation, couples can now choose to enter into a civil partnership to formalise their relationship. If this is a possible route for you, take some legal advice beforehand so you know whether it’s the right option for you both.

If you would like to discuss cohabitation or other family matters with our specialist Family solicitors, please contact the team on 0161 6155554, by email to or by visiting our Altrincham office.