Supplementary written evidence from Professor Anne Barlow (HAB0380)

  1. Who believes in the common law marriage myth?

I attach a spreadsheet of the data breakdown by age, gender, socio-economic group etc of the British Social Attitudes Survey data in 2018 (published 2019). Andy Hayward thought this may be useful for the committee. In particular, in the youngest age group 18-24 it can be seen that 25% of respondents couldn’t choose an answer to the question, far higher than any other age group, although there was a lower percentage of myth believers at the younger end. Interestingly, fewer women now believe the myth than men (44%:51%). Over half of those between 25 and 64 believe in the myth and similarly, among those with children in the household, over 55% of married, cohabiting and divorced/separated/widowed respondents believe the myth. These last two groups are more likely to be affected by cohabitation breakdown involving children.

  1. The effect of an information campaign about legal rights

As mentioned, we did carry out an evaluation of the government’s Living Together Campaign and I have sent you our full report published by MoJ in 2007.  Of particular note is the fact that one year on, none of our respondents who wanted to make concrete  legal arrangements had actually managed to do this. The reasons why those cohabitants who intended to make arrangements once they discovered their legal situation, did not do so are also instructive as set out below  –

Reasons for not taking legal action

Respondents to the internet survey gave the following reasons for not having taken legal action -


  1. Issues around opting out of any presumptive regime

As discussed at the evidence session, it would be important to publicise the fact that opting out was an option and ensure people were encouraged to seek legal advice on opting out. There could of course be some who are caught unawares by the introduction of such a change. However, generally, those couples where both partners genuinely wish to opt out, are likely to be in a better position to access legal advice than common law marriage myth believers, as they would be a different group of people. They are likely to be more legally aware and more likely to have sufficient funds for advice, wishing to protect their own assets. There may be issues around people trying to coerce a partner into signing an agreement, and it should be made clear that evidence of duress should nullify the validity of such an opt-out agreement, as already happens with pre-nups.

September 2021