05th December 2013

Married or living together — what is the legal difference?

Differences between married and unmarried couples.

There are significant financial and legal differences for couples who live together compared to those who are married. Many couples who live together believe that they are common law husband and wife and so have similar financial and legal rights to married couples. This is not correct. 

In recent weeks David Cameron has introduced a tax break for married couples. This means that a spouse who does not earn enough to use their full tax free allowance will be able to transfer the unused part to their partner therefore reducing their husband/wife’s tax bill. The Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has said however that many low income couples who will benefit from the tax break will be no better off as they will lose benefit payments as a result. The Institute say that those couples receiving the Universal Credit (UC) benefit could end up seeing no real increase in their available income because the UC payment will go down due to the increase in the couples take home pay. Notwithstanding this a couple who live together, regardless of the length of their relationship, will not qualify for the tax break.  

On separation a married couple have financial claims against each other in respect of income, capital and pension. This means that both parties’ financial needs are taking into account when dividing assets on divorce. This means that even assets owned in one spouse’s sole name will be subject to possibly being shared. In particular the parties have a duty to maintain each other from their income if necessary. On separation, unmarried couples do not have such claims. There is no obligation for unmarried couples to maintain each other, although the child maintenance may in reality contain an element for their carer. Property owned in one party’s sole name will remain that way unless the non- owning partner can establish that they have a financial interest in the property. This would generally only be established if the non owning partner had made a financial contribution to the purchase or renovation of the property, but there are strict and difficult evidential hurdles to overcome. In these situations, we often see injustices for a person who has been part of a relationship for twenty years, and gained no property entitlement. 

Where the children are concerned, unmarried couples may not have the same legal position in relation to their children. An unmarried father may not have parental responsibility for his children. Parental Responsibility means the rights and responsibilities of being a parent such as being involved in key decisions for a child such as medical treatment and where they live.

It is important that married or unmarried thought is given to financial arrangements and the position in relation to children.

At Cartwright King we have a team of specialist family law solicitors who can help and advise on rights and responsibilities and how best to ensure that legal and financial positions reflect the intentions of a couple.  

Please contact our team of specialist family law solicitors on 0845 894 1622 for further advice and assistance on these or any other family law issues.

For further information please get in touch with our dedicated team.

You can always call us on 0845 894 1622 or email on


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