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The Rights of the Unmarried

Recently an article was published in the Financial Remedies Journal (FRJ) titled “A new weddings law is not a panacea for unmarried couples”. This is a dive into a recent submission to the government aiming to update the law regarding marriage (the main bulk of which was brought in during the 1800s!) and how it does not offer any further protection for those who choose not to get married to their partners.

The proposal l to the government is aimed at modernising the marriage process. It highlights the current limitations of marriage, including the specific places you have to register at and certain limitations with non-Christian marriage ceremonies.

The report makes certain recommendations to update the laws including:

·         Letting couples give notice of intent to be married online;

·         Have a public notice of upcoming weddings to allow info to be accessible

·         Have religious ceremonies take place in more places, rather than just a place of worship, and remove the limitation for religious ceremonies to usespecific wording.

·         Allow weddings to take place outdoors, in affordable local venues, and in international waters (where the ship is UK Registered)


These are all positive things, and would help ease a lot of stress that some couples may feel when planning their wedding. The FRJ  describes this as “welcome news”, but also aims to highlight the rights of those who are ‘married’ in a non-compliant way which has not created a valid marriage, or those who choose not to get married.

They pick out a specific quote from the wedding reforms:

“As is the case with religious only weddings, some of those who have had another type of ceremony or are simply cohabiting will be doing so out of choice and will be fully aware of the legal consequences. Others will do so unaware of the legal consequences (in particular because of the enduring myth of common law marriage.”

We have before talked about the concept of Common Law Marriage not existing in the UK (it does however exist in certain US states and has made its way to popular media in some cases)

Some issues can arise from the separation of couples that were never married / had a civil partnership, including the split of a property that was bought prior to the relationship but has been the couple’s main residence, or how one partner may be at a much weaker financial standpoint after having taken time away from work to have and care for children. Currently there is no clear way for unmarried/partnered couples to resolve issues if the relationship breaks down like there is for married couples - couples may need to rely on TOLATA 1996 (Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act), or equitable concepts like promissory estoppel to resolve any issues. This can become a very lengthy dispute if there is not an agreement between the parties, and can lead to both parties accruing  huge legal costs.

The FRJ goes on to talk about how recently a report was submitted to the government from the Women and Equalities Committee, as a large percentage of those that struggle after a split in the relationship are the female in the relationship (as it is still more likely for female partners to have been out of work due to childcare etc). This report was only recently submitted, and so we are not expected to have any official response for a few months, however this may be longer due to the situation regarding the change in leadership that is currently ongoing.

Going forward it is clear that there needs to be some protection put in place for unmarried / unpartnered couples but what form these will take remains to be seen.

Given the time that no fault divorce took to come into play we are unlikely to see changes anytime soon, so we encourage anyone that is in this situation to research their rights going forward.

Posted in: Family Law

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