STEP highlights guidance for unmarried couples following release of UK national statistics

Thursday, 8 August, 2019

STEP, the professional body for inheritance and trust advisors, today highlighted its advice regarding wills, the law and unmarried couples.

An article on the subject, covering the various issues, The myth of the ‘common-law marriage', is hosted on STEP’s Advising Families site. 

In addition, Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at STEP, and an experienced Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP), is available for interviews on the subject.

The UK government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday (7 August) revealed the latest figures on Families and Households, for 2018. 

Among the ONS findings were the following:

  • The number of cohabiting couple families continues to grow faster than married couple and lone parent families, with an increase of 25.8 per cent over the decade 2008 to 2018.
  • The number of same-sex couple families has grown by more than 50 per cent since 2015, with more than four times as many same-sex married couple families in 2018 compared with 2015.

Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at STEP, said: ‘Many people believe that there is such a thing as a ‘common-law marriage’, where couples in a long-term relationship acquire equivalent rights to people who are married. But this ‘common-law marriage’ is a myth: only couples who are married or in civil partnerships have legal rights and responsibilities.

‘So-called ‘common law marriage’ is not recognised by the law of England and Wales or Northern Ireland. So you need to be married, or in a civil partnership, to rely on the law for dividing up finances if you split up, or if one of you dies. It makes no difference if you have a child with the person you live with.

‘If you are living with your partner, you are known as a ‘cohabitee’, and you should consider your position in the circumstances described below.

‘Scotland updated its law with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 to reflect the number of couples who do not get married or enter into civil partnerships, and also extended it to same-sex couples.

‘It introduced a basic set of rights for people living together, or if one of them dies, but these are not the same as for couples who are married.’

Contact details

For more information, or to request an interview with Emily Deane, please contact:

Notes to Editors

About STEP:

STEP is the global professional association for practitioners who specialise in family inheritance and succession planning. STEP works to improve public understanding of the issues families face in this area and promotes education and high professional standards among its members. STEP members help families plan for their futures, from drafting wills to issues surrounding international families, protection of the vulnerable, family businesses and philanthropic giving. Full STEP members, known as TEPs, are internationally recognised as experts in their field, with proven qualifications and experience.

The STEP Code for Will Preparation:

All STEP members who draft wills in England and Wales must abide by the STEP Code for Will Preparation (PDF), a set of ethical principles that operate for the benefit of clients and demonstrate openly the commitment of STEP members to transparency and client service.