The rights of unmarried couples have been strengthened by the recent Supreme Court decision in favour of Siobhan McLaughlin, an unmarried mother from Northern Ireland.
Ms McLaughlin and her partner, John Adams, had been together for 23 years and had 4 children together. However when he died from cancer in 2014, she was refused a widowed parent’s allowance for her bereaved children. She will now receive an extra £117.00 per week as a result of her success at the Supreme Court. Widowed Parent’s Allowance was previously only available for married couples or civil partners however the Supreme Court found that this incompatible with Human Rights legislation. The judgement established that it should not matter whether or not parents are married, or in a civil partnership, and clarifies that the purpose of the Widowed Parent’s Allowance is to assist widows, with dependent children, regardless of their marital status.
Although this judgement relates specifically to the facts of Mrs McLaughlin’s case, the decision could have a greater impact on unmarried couple’s rights moving forward.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR UNMARRIED COUPLES IN THE FUTURE?
- Thousands of families could now benefit from Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
- Other benefits that favour married couples may be challenged relying on this precedent.
- There will be increased pressure for legal reform relating to the rights of unmarried couples.
- Unmarried couples could begin to receive similar protection to married couples.
Despite this positive movement towards equal rights there remains a disproportionate lack of protection for unmarried couples in family law. This is a problem which can create severe financial hardship for families upon death or separation. To combat this lack of protection many unmarried couples rely on cohabitation agreements or ‘living together agreements’ for some form of protection.
If you are interested in discussing cohabitation agreements or if you would like to speak to us regarding any other family related legal matters then please do not hesitate to contact our dedicated family team at Nalders.