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The history behind common law marriages
Common law marriage is an arrangement dating back to medieval times.
Back then in rural England, marriage wasn’t a religious affair. It was enough that a man and a woman said they took each other as husband and wife for them to be married. It was as simple as that! Even the wider community and church recognised the arrangement as an official marriage.
At the time, England was also a Catholic country. It was under the sphere of influence of Pope Innocent III that the church set the requirement for marriage to take place in front of a priest.
This led to a tradition called ‘handfasting’ where couples exchanged legally binding vows and sometimes had their hands tied together with a knot as a symbol of their union. Coincidentally, this is where the term ‘tie the knot’ came from.
Over time, this evolved. First, in the 16th century with a requirement for 2 witnesses and a priest at the handfasting. Then with the introduction of marriage licenses at the end of the 17th century.
After multiple further reforms, we arrive at marriage law today – and the disappearance of common law marriages.
Does common law marriage apply anywhere else in the world?
Common law marriage made its way over to America by English settlers and in some states is still recognised. The recognition and rules of a common law marriage vary between countries and states, so always consider this when researching.
A cohabitation agreement (aka a living together agreement) is a legal document that sets out the organisation of your assets, finances, and responsibilities as a couple.
In your cohabitation agreement, you’ll cover all aspects of your life together, such as:
- How you’ll split your bills
- Financial dealings and obligations
- Pet and child arrangements upon separation.
Each couple will have a cohabitation agreement tailored to them. Cohabitation agreements are more popular amongst couples with a history of divorce, or where there is a wealth disparity, but that’s not the only use for them.
If one or both of you have children from other relationships, a cohabitation agreement can set out practical financial roles and responsibilities in the event of a split.
Lots of people think that wills are only necessary when you get older, but this isn’t the case.
Wills can offer great financial security to cohabiting couples, regardless of age.
If you decide not to get married and one of you passes away, the surviving partner isn’t automatically entitled to anything. Instead, the distribution of assets will be in line with laws completely out of your control.
If you’re separated from a previous partner but not divorced, your entire estate could even go to your ex-spouse.
In your will, you can specify what you leave to your partner if you pass away, providing security and peace of mind for the future.
Pensions and life insurance
This is similar to wills, in the fact that your partner won’t receive anything automatically. You must speak with your providers and get your partner named on your accounts.
Although less common, you may wish to consider instructions to access tools such as e-wallets if you have cryptocurrency investments.
If you’ve read this blog and feel like your options aren’t great or maybe you even feel they’re unfair, marriage might be the best option for you. But remember that tying the knot doesn’t come free of its own strings attached.
The law is much more stringent for married couples, setting grounds for divorce and death.
If you’re avoiding marriage because you can’t afford the expense, don’t forget you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a big wedding. You always have the option of a small ceremony at your local registry office, which costs on average around £1400.