Almost half think unmarried couples have a common law marriage
A vast proportion (46%) of people in England and Wales still believe that cohabiting couples have the same rights as couples that are legally married, research from the National Centre for Social Research has revealed - a figure which has barely changed over the past 14 years (47% in 2005)
The British Social Attitudes Survey, which is commissioned by the University of Exeter and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, also found that people are significantly more likely to believe in common law marriage when children come into the equation, 55% compared to 41% of households without children.
Singles, however, are least likely to believe in common law marriage rights for people who live together, while more men than women think they exist (49% compared to 44%).
'No legal status'
"Our data clearly show that almost half of us falsely believe that common law marriage exists in England and Wales when, in reality, cohabitation grants no general legal status to a couple," said Anne Barlow, professor of family law and policy at the University of Exeter. "Cohabiting couples now account for the fastest growing type of household and the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children has more than doubled in the last decade. Yet whilst people's attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation have shifted, policy has failed to keep up with the times."
Only 28% of those aged to 18 to 24 years and 39% of those aged 65 and over perceive a cohabiting couple to be in a common law marriage, whereas 52% of respondents between 25 and 24 years believe this to be the case.
"The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children," said Barlow. Therefore, it's absolutely crucial that we raise awareness of the difference between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage and any differences in rights that come with each."
"Almost two years on from reform of working age bereavement benefits, it's essential that parents are made aware that at present, being in a cohabiting relationship, separated or divorced means that on partner/former spouse death you are ineligible for bereavement benefit welfare support," said Scottish Widows' Johnny Timpson.
He also explained it is also important that married parents in a civil partnership are made aware that, following April 2017 reform of working age bereavement benefits, bereaved parents making a claim now are only eligible for support for 18 months. "Pre the April 2017 reform, the support period could potentially have been until your youngest child ceased being financially dependent; in some cases, this could have resulted in support till reached the age of 20, with the average support period being nine years," he said.
For more information on bereaved benefits and eligibility, tools and support can be access here.
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