My daughter, who has been living with her boyfriend (and contributing to the running of the household, bills and so on) has been asked to move out... does she have any rights

01:00 Tue 16th Oct 2001 |

asks Mallorn:

A. The short answer is no, she doesn't. 'The common law wife' is just a myth, except in certain circumstances in Scotland.

Q. Why in Scotland
Until the beginning of the 20th century, Scots law did recognise the rights unmarried women in certain circumstances. For example, if a man promised to marry a woman and then had sex with her, he was legally married to her. This was to protect women from being duped.

Only one form of common-law marriage still exists in Scotland - 'cohabitation with habit and repute'. This applies to a couple who are both free to marry and who pass themselves off as husband and wife. In theory, they can claim the legal rights of a married couple if they split up. But this 'marriage' is not as legally sound as it used to be.

Q. Why
Now there are so many more couples who describe themselves as 'living together', and they don't have the same rights when they break up.

Q. So couples who are cohabiting anywhere in the UK have no rights
If they own a house together, they have an equal share in that. And if they have children, one parent can get maintenance from the other, but that's about all.

Over the last 20 years, the number of people living together without marrying has trebled. There are now about 1.6 million cohabitees. And most of them aren't aware that they have no rights.

Q. What my daughter she do
A. She can go to court and claim that she has helped her ex-boyfriend to increase the value of his house over the years by her investment of time, money and effort in the relationship. But she is not entitled to the same share as a wife would be.

Q. No 'Palimony' as in the US
No. Cohabitation is a risky business. Living together for years is seen as less important that signing a bit of paper in a registry office.

Q. Is this going to change
It's likely. The Law Society is concerned that people are unaware that they don't have rights unless they're married. It has suggested some changes to bring the law up to date, such as allowing couples to draw up a legally binding cohabitation contracts. However, it's not recommending automatic rights to half of all assets, as is the case with marriage. Courts may have to decide who gets what, according to the circumstances.

Q. Where can I find out more
Contact the Solicitors' Family Law Association which has some simple fact sheets on living together.

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