It is an unfortunate but common scenario that cohabitants can lose their standard of living or even the place they called home if one partner dies or if the couple separates. A will is a critical document to have in place for any family, and for unmarried couples the absence of a will can mean no legal redress at all.

If you are married or in a civil partnership, the Succession Act 1965 entitles your surviving spouse or civil partner a legal right to a share of your estate when you die, no matter what you have said or specified in your will. This does not apply to cohabiting couples.

What are the rights of cohabiting couples?

If you are in a cohabiting relationship, there is nothing to prevent you from leaving some or all of your property to your partner in your will, once you are aware of the implications including tax implications. However, if you are or have been married or in a civil partnership, your spouse or civil partner may be legally entitled to a share of your estate, even though you are now separated from them.

The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 allows for an economically dependent partner to be considered when a long-term partner’s estate is being wound up.

The 2010 Act also allows a financially dependent cohabitant to apply to Court for redress on the breakdown of the relationship. However, no rights are automatically awarded to a financially dependent cohabitant if the relationship ends as the result of death or otherwise and each case will be looked at on its individual merits.

How can I prove I am financially dependent?

For a person to prove that they were financially dependent on their cohabiting partner, an application would have to be made to Court under the aforementioned Act. One of the criteria to prove that a person is a “qualified cohabitant” is to show that the relationship lasted five years or more. For unmarried couples with children, this period is reduced to two years or more.

At Augustus Cullen Law, we frequently advise on cohabitation agreements and non-marital relationships. We encourage you to contact us if you have a related question, we would be delighted to hear from you.

If you have any further queries, please contact:

Barbara Lydon, Associate Solicitor


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