This week, CAB’s Tom Togher has advice for people living together who are not wed
A RECENT court case about pension rights serves as a good reminder that people who live together as a couple rather than getting married (or entering a civil partnership) have fewer rights. This is called cohabitation.
This recent case involved pension rights for an occupational pension scheme when a partner dies. Even though the court ruled in favour of the surviving partner in this case (a Northern Irish Court) if you cohabit you should check with your pension provider directly.
Many schemes allow you to name an unmarried partner as a beneficiary – and it is much safer if you do so properly.
It is also probably even more important for cohabiting partners to write wills.
Without a will, a surviving cohabiting partner is left in a very vulnerable position, especially in terms of money and property.
It can also be useful to consider the position of any children. If parents are not married, a male partner is not presumed to be the legal father of a child.
Since December 1, 2003, an unmarried father can acquire parental responsibility by jointly registering or re-registering the child’s birth with the mother. A parental responsibility agreement signed by both partners can also give unmarried fathers who do not have parental responsibility the same legal status as a married father. These agreements must be filed at the county court. It is also, perhaps, useful to appoint a guardian to act on your death.
Debts generally remain the responsibility of the individual cohabiting partner, other than council tax or any debt where the other partner may have acted as a guarantor. It is possible that a utility company (e.g. gas or electricity) might try to enforce shared debts under what is known as the ‘beneficial user’ principle.
Both a cohabiting or married partner (or civil partner) can apply to the court for a nonmolestation order to protect themselves from domestic abuse. If a victim of domestic abuse needs to exclude a partner from the home they can apply for an occupation order to give them a right to stay in the home or suspend the right of her or his partner to be in the home.
If a cohabiting relationship comes to an end because of separation, this can be done informally without the intervention of a court, but there can be problems for a partner who is not a named tenant or owner of the home. The courts have few powers to make orders concerning the money or property of the couple unless the couple has made an enforceable agreement.
Cohabiting partners do not have a duty to support each other financially, although both biological (or adoptive) parents have a duty to support a child.
Cohabiting partners will be treated as a couple for the purposes of claiming means tested benefits.
Cohabiting partners are not automatically entitled to give consent for medical treatment, this will instead by the next of kin. A hospital will usually accept the person named as a next of kin if the other partner was able to make it clear themselves who this should be.
The law around cohabitation is complex and this advice is not comprehensive. You should instead check our information on the internet for yourself.
The law is not as straightforward for couples who separate without being married, so it is best to know where you stand in the event of a break-up