Even if you have lived with your partner for several decades, you have none of the rights that someone has if they’ve been married for only a couple of years.
That means a woman who has given up her career to raise children or support their husband’s business can find herself, 20 years down the line, with a greatly diminished earning potential and no financial settlement to fall back on.
The phrase ‘common-law wife’ is no longer used, but people still think that cohabitation will afford women legal protection if they a long partnership breaks down.
Recently, England’s most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, called for the situation to be addressed, saying reform was ‘desperately needed’ to give tens of thousands of unmarried couples ‘overdue’ rights.
‘Thus far, governments have failed to act,’ said Sir James, President of the Family Division of the High Court. ‘It is inconceivable that society will not right this injustice in due course. How many more women are to be condemned to injustice in the meantime?’
Women who had sacrificed their careers during a long, live-in relationship could find themselves ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ with nothing after 20 or 30 years, he continued. By that time, they were too old to rebuild their former careers.
At Benussi & Co, we see a lot of unmarried clients, many of whom are stunned to discover they don’t have the same rights as married couples. Although there are ways to secure some form of financial settlement, in particular when there are children involved (the law makes provision for children, regardless of their parents’ marital status), our hands are tied to a large extent.
If, example, you didn’t buy your family home jointly with your former partner, then you have no stake in it, even if you’ve lived there for 30 years. In short, you’re viewed as an unpaid housekeeper!
Some people eschew marriage because they think it will make things ‘easier’ if they split up – no need to go through the lengthy and costly divorce process. Alas, as the law stands, it will cost you a lot, lot more if you’re a woman who’s relied on her man’s money for the past few decades.
So if you’re wondering whether to get married – or get remarried – or whether to cohabit, don’t wait for our out-dated legal system to catch up with the modern way of doing things, ensure your financial security and say ‘I do’.