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The two-tier relationship divide

View profile for Kirsty Morris
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The turn of the new year saw the introduction of civil partnership for opposite sex couples for the first time. While this was a welcome, progressive change, the huge gulf in the law which exists for couples who choose to live together, without registering their relationship by way of a marriage or civil partnership, continues to exist and catch many couples out.

Individuals who either actively choose not to marry or have a civil partnership, or who simply ‘don’t get round to it’, have to rely on complex property and trust laws when dealing with disputes over the sale or division of property if they decide to separate. There is still a myth that by living together, couples can gain rights through a “common law marriage”. That is not the case.

The laws of England and Wales have moved another step closer to removing the distinctions between same sex and opposite sex relationships but there is still a stark two-tiered system between those who register their relationship and those who do not. Spouses and civil partners may also take advantage of different tax treatment when transferring assets between one another, which does not exist for cohabitants.

Individuals now have the autonomy to register their relationship in keeping with their ideologies and beliefs, but the law does not adequately provide for those who do not register their relationship at all. Couples who decide to live together should obtain legal advice and consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement to record their intentions about how their financial arrangements will be managed while living together as a couple, their intentions towards the ownership of any property and how the property will be dealt with in the event of separation.

Kirsty Morris, a legal director at the firm, sits on the Resolution Cohabitation Committee which is dedicated towards de-mystifying this area for legal practitioners and clients. She, or any of the other members of the Burgess Mee team, would be happy to speak to clients about drawing up a cohabitation agreement or resolving issues on separation.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact us at or on 0203 824 9950.