The number of couples who are living together without marrying has dramtically increased in recent years. Figures also show that 40% of births are outside of marriage. There is a common public misconception that cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights as married couples (so called 'common law partners'). However this is not so and in a relationship breakdown the legal position of a cohabitee can be extremely precarious.

Cohabiting vs marriage: Six Ways Your Rights Differ.

1. If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything - unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate

2. An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension-sharing
3. Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner's bank account if they die - whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small

4. An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally
5. Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other
6. If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave - but each married partner has the right to live in the "matrimonial home"

Source: Citizens Advice

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