Unlike married couples, cohabiting partners do not generally have automatic rights to pensions or other assets upon death or separation.
When a married couple separate they can make a claim for a share of their spouse’s pension. However, when an unmarried couple separate, they are not able to claim a share of their former partner’s pension.
There are also differences in how pensions benefit a surviving partner of an unmarried couple. Most pension schemes do not give any benefit rights to the surviving partner, except possibly for a lump sum, which will be paid at the discretion of the managers of the scheme.
Whether the surviving partner would be entitled to any benefit rights had been largely dependent on whether or not the deceased partner had formally nominated the surviving partner to receive the lump sum payment. However, in February 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that an unmarried partner, Ms Brewster, was entitled to her partner’s public sector pension, despite the fact that they were not married and that her partner had not completed a form nominating her as an eligible survivor.
This appears to be good news but unmarried couples still do not have the same rights as married couples. Whilst some public sector pension schemes may change their rules and practices following the Supreme Court ruling to automatically benefit cohabitants, it is unclear whether that would apply to all cases, or retrospectively.
Resolution has decided to hold a Cohabitation Awareness Week from 27th November to 1st December 2017 to help dispel the myth of the “common law marriage” and alert people to the difference in legal rights between married and unmarried couples, and what steps an unmarried couple can take to record the interest and rights of each partner in the event of separation.
If you are planning to move in with your partner, are currently in a cohabiting relationship or if you were in a cohabitating relationship which has broken down, please contact us for advice about your situation. All of the family lawyers at Lightfoots LLP are members of Resolution.