When I lived for ten years with my children's father we had three children, and when the relationship abruptly ended, the phrase: "Well it's the same as being married" - proved to be a lie. You can tell yourself that while you are together, but don't be foolish enough to think it's the same when you are splitting up.
You think you'll get some of his pension? - Wrong. You are not eligible for any of it.
He has a pension. I have none. My career was put aside to look after the kids, and the pension that was going to support both of us became just his. If we had been married, I would have had claim to half of it. But because we were not legally wed, I get nothing. And it's hard to create a secure pension from scratch at 40 with no job and three small children to look after.
You think you have half the value of the house? - Wrong. If your name is not on the deeds, it's not your house.
If you have dependent children you may be able to stay there until they reach sixteen, at which point you yourself become homeless, with no property, unless you've been able to save up for one whilst bringing up the kids.
In my case, the family home didn't have my name on the deeds, even though I had financially contributed to the running of the household whilst he paid the mortgage. But I couldn't stay there with the kids because it had to be sold to cover the debts I didn't know he had amassed. Thank goodness that by not being legally married, I wasn't liable for his debts - one benefit at least.
You think you will get some money to cover your role as stay at home parent while he continues to build his career? - Wrong. No spousal maintenance because you are not a spouse.
A percentage of his gross salary (minus his pension payments) will be provided as a contribution for the children's needs, but you yourself get nothing. No maintenance. If you want to buy a pair of shoes for yourself, you need to go out and earn it. Thank god for Working Family Tax Credit to top up your income and help cover childcare costs when you get a part-time job.
'Common Law Marriage' is a UK Myth
Just over half the population still think that common law marriage exists in law, according to a British Social Attitudes survey: 51% of those surveyed believe that cohabiting couples are protected by 'common law marriage'. But they are mistaken.
"There is no such thing as a Common Law wife and cohabiting couples can be extremely vulnerable on separation because many people cohabit without realising the legal implications." Kim Beatson, Anthony Gold Solicitors
So if you find yourself not married but financially dependent on your partner, with children to care for, what can you do about it?
Well plenty of married of couples who thought it was too unromantic to get a prenup, are later on seeing the light and getting themselves a postnup. If you are living together, you can create a Cohabitation Agreement at any point. It may not have the full strength under the pressure of litigation as a marriage license, but it will be taken seriously by any reasonable judge if put to the test.
But the whole point is that you shouldn't have to end up fighting about who gets what if the relationship ends, or how much is needed to bring up your family, because you have already sat down and worked it all out in advance.
How do you go about creating a Cohabitation Agreement, and what are the potential pitfalls?
My next two articles will look at what can be the blocks to creating such an agreement, and how to overcome them.
In this podcast interview with Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator Kim Beatson of Anthony Gold Solicitors, Kim explains the harsh reality of not getting legally married when having a family - if you are to later split up.
Podcast interview: Cohabitants who split