Cohabitation is now an established part of our society. There are over two million opposite sex couples living together in England and Wales, and a large proportion of these are families with dependant children. Although cohabitants are now given legal protection in several areas, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than their married counterparts. However many cohabitants are not aware of their position and consequently take no steps to protect themselves. According to a recent survey 61% of all respondents think that couples who have lived together for a while have the same rights as married couples. This is not true: there are important differences in rights between married and unmarried relationships. For example, unless a will is made, a surviving partner may inherit nothing from a deceased partner. Also where unmarried partners live together, unless both partners have a financial interest in the property, one of the partners may have no right to remain in the home if the relationship breaks down.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs is keen to dispel the myth of 'common law marriage' and has supported and funded two voluntary sector partners, Advice Services Alliance and One Plus One, to manage the 'Living Together' campaign. This campaign aims to make cohabitants more aware of their legal status and provide them with practical advice on how they can protect themselves and their families, should they wish to do so.