Topic overview

Non-marriage relationships

A cohabiting hetrosexual couple laugh as their photo is taken

The number of people in the UK (aged 16 years and over) who live with a partner and have never married has continued to increase, rising to 13% in 2020 (from 10% in 2018).

In this section, we set out the legal steps one can take to protect oneself in the event such a non-marriage relationship ends. Cohabiting couples often assume that as they have lived together they have certain rights similar to marriage under common law marriage. This is not the case as common law marriage has no legal validity in the UK. For this reason, you need to understand your rights when you cohabit with another person. It can help to put an agreement in writing about what will happen should the relationship break down.

We also cover civil partnerships, which give both mixed-sex and same-sex couples very similar rights and responsibilities to married couples. Civil partnerships were originally introduced back in 2005 for same-sex couples. The right to form a civil partnership has been extended to mixed-sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland.

You can form a civil partnership in England or Wales if you’re:

  • 16 or over
  • not already married or in a civil partnership
  • not closely related

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