Chapter 1 Key facts checklists

Family relationships, marriage, civil partnership, cohabitation

 Many attempts have been made to define ‘a family’ but the range of couples and larger groups, with or without children, who may be included or excluded, makes it difficult to find a widely acceptable definition.

 Marriage was defined in Hyde v Hyde (1866) as ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 allowed couples of the same sex to marry with effect from 29 March 2014.

 A civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other under the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

 There is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ and those living together acquire virtually no rights in relation to each other, regardless of the length of their cohabitation.

 Formalities have to be complied with both to form and to end marriage and civil partnership; no formalities govern the start and end of cohabitation.

 Parties to a marriage or civil partnership can acquire rights over property during the relationship by their contributions, other than money, towards the relationship.

 Cohabitees generally only acquire rights over things to which they contribute financially. They may be able to claim rights over property on the basis of trusts law or proprietary estoppel.

 There are often calls to reform the law in relation to cohabitants. Joint ownership of property is an issue of particular concern.