A leading family lawyer has urged cohabiting couples to protect their finances and assets in case of separation, as figures reveal more people are choosing to live together without marrying.

Kennedy Langley, a family solicitor at Shropshire-based mfg Solicitors, said many people believe the myth of “common law marriage”, and wrongly assume they will be protected by law should they split up.

Ms Langley is now urging couples to draw up a legally binding cohabitation agreement to ensure each person’s intentions regarding property, finances, living arrangements and child maintenance are clear should the relationship fail.

She said: “Across the world, the trend is steering away from marriage and instead more people are opting to live together as cohabitees.

“Unfortunately, UK law is significantly lagging behind this cultural and societal shift. Our legislation is outdated and falls short of being equipped to protect those who chose to cohabit instead of marry.”

Cohabiting couples are now the fastest growing type of family in the UK, with latest figures showing that more babies were born outside of a marriage or civil partnership compared to those in one for the first time ever in England and Wales last year.

However, cohabiting couples have no general legal status, even if a child is involved. Attempts to lobby the government for cohabitation law reform, to give parties more legal protection, have so far failed.

Ms Langley added: “Many people mistakenly believe that if couples live together for long enough, or after having children, they become “common law spouses” and automatically develop legal rights and responsibilities towards one another.

“This is sadly a widespread misconception.

“Whilst upon divorce, the courts can make financial orders to divide assets or property between parties guided by the principles of fairness, needs and resources of either party – the starting point being a 50/50 split in the overall material assets - the same is not true of cohabitees.

"Whilst a party does have a financial obligation to any children the couple may have, there is no financial obligation from one party to another.

“Many couples who chose not to marry therefore do not realise that they are leaving themselves in a precarious situation whereby they could be left with no financial security, a home or any access to pensions or savings.

“Cohabitation agreements can be entered into at any time during the relationship. It’s never too late. Taking the time to enter into a cohabitation agreement provides security and peace of mind and can save stress in the long run.”

For expert legal advice to create a cohabitation agreement, readers can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by call 01562 820181.