Current Affairs | Cohabitation Rights – Death of a Partner?
There have been a vast amount of articles written in the UK recently on the reform of family law, including cohabitation. Within those discussions is the need for a divorce law reform, to achieve ‘no blame’ as a reason for marital breakdown. Amongst other discussions, is the need to afford those couples who choose to cohabit with one another, with legal rights.
At present, there is no such thing as a common-law marriage, despite the myths. This means the rights afforded to those who are married, or are in civil partnerships, do not apply to couples who are cohabiting. One issue in particular which has taken the media by storm in recent months is the case of Siobhan McLaughlin dealing with cohabitation.
Siobhan McLaughlin case
The Supreme Court have recently sat in Belfast to hear the case of Siobhan McLaughlin, a woman who for 23 years cohabited with her partner John Adams. The couple shared four children together, before John unfortunately passed away due to cancer in 2014. Siobhan sought her entitlement to widowed parents allowance to help face the hardship of the loss of her partner, and alleviate the financial issues she faced of now being a single parent to a mum of four.
Siobhan successfully won her original case, however, the decision was overturned in the Court of Appeal, where it was commented upon by Lord Justice Weatherup that “the relationship of an un-married cohabitee is not analogous (not similar) to that of a married spouse or civil partnership”.
Other considerations for the decision in the Court of Appeal were that, by allowing cohabitees to claim the widowed parent’s allowance it could potentially cost the government an estimated £21.6 million per year, if the eligibility criteria were to be extended.
The backlash from the media is that, with cohabiting couples being recognised now in 21st century society, as a family type in its own right, why is this not reflected in the law?
The Law in the UK
At present, the way in which the law stands, is that if a spouse of a married couple, or if a partner to a civil partnership passes away then they may be entitled to the widowed parents allowance on their death (provided they meet the other requirements). However, cohabiting couples do not fall within this criteria.
Siobhan, throughout her case has voiced that she feels discriminated against by the Government, all because she was not married to her long term partner. The effects on Siobhan’s family are what she reports to be devastating. In place of not receiving the allowance Siobhan had to take on extra employment, which meant the children suffered the loss of their father and their mother who was now never home due to trying to make ends meet.
If the Supreme Court overturn the Court of Appeal’s decision, this could set precedent for cohabiting couples. Irrespective of whether there is a positive outcome for Siobhan’s case, it is becoming more apparent that there is a desperate need for reform in relation to cohabitation, to protect the fastest growing family type in the UK.
What is the position in Jersey?
As in the UK, Jersey law does not afford rights like those with married couples, or those in a civil partnership, to cohabiting couples.
On the States of Jersey website, under survivor’s benefit, those who would be eligible, provided they meet the other requirements, will be those who are married or in a civil partnership.
At present, there is no survivor’s allowance, should a cohabitee’s partner pass away.
Given that the UK have now seen three cases of this nature in the past year, it only serves to highlight the discrepancies in the rights afforded to those who suffer the bereavement of a loved one, depending on a person’s relationship status. Should the Government not consider in the UK or Jersey the need for cohabitation rights, it will only serve to heighten issues of discrimination for cohabiting couples.
Author: Stephanie Devine