Cohabiting Couples and their Pension Rights

A woman, whose long term partner died, has recently won a legal battle that is likely to improve the pension rights of unmarried couples in the public sector. Denise Brewster argued that she was the victim of “serious discrimination” when she was denied payments from her late partner’s occupational pension scheme. She ultimately won her case at the UK’s highest court. Denise and her partner lived together for 10 years and owned their own home. When her partner died, had they been married, Denise would automatically have shared in the pension that he had built up. As they were only cohabiting, Denise was not automatically entitled to his pension. A form had not been completed which would have allowed her to receive the money.

In order to have received her partners pension on his death, Denise should have been nominated on a pension form. This would not have been a requirement if the couple had been married and this has been condemned as discriminatory by the Supreme Court.

Unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples. If a cohabiting relationship ends, there is no automatic entitlement to share in the assets of the other . This can be especially hard if there are children from that relationship.

It is a common misconception that common law spouses have the same rights as married couples. Some people question whether cohabiting couples should indeed have the same legal rights as married couples, with married couples having made a formal legal commitment to each other. The question is not an easy one, having moral, ethical, religious and legal consequences. As things stand however, cohabiting couples have fewer rights.

There are more cohabiting couples than ever before. Many couples are now entering into a cohabitation agreement with each other, which sets out what would happen in the event that they separate. Issues such as joint bank accounts and the ongoing occupation of a family home, in which children live, are routinely dealt with. Cohabiting couples are also recording their intentions in their wills.

We live in an ever changing world where the make-up of families are also changing. The government is coming under pressure to give cohabiting couples more rights than they currently have and they are considering the position.

Whatever your thoughts on co-habitation or marriage, it is undoubtedly important to ensure that there are provisions in place which will protect you and your family.

If you want to discuss any of the issues contained in this article, please contact Jo Scott, Specialist Family Law Solicitor, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator