Supreme Court says unmarried “widow” should get bereavement payments

In a recent landmark decision that could indicate a shift in the law relating to couples who live together but not do not marry, the Supreme Court recently overturned an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal and held that unmarried “widow” Siobhan McLaughlin was entitled to receive Widowed Parent’s Allowance, even though she had never married her long term partner John Adams who had passed away in January 2014.

Ms McLaughlin and Mr Adams had lived together for 23 years and had 4 children together who were aged 19, 17, 13 and 11 years when their father died. Mr Adams had made sufficient national insurance contributions for Ms McLaughlin to be able to claim WPA if she had been married to him. However, her claims were refused and she applied to the court for judicial review of that decision on the ground that this was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

The decision does not change the law but the declaration puts pressure on the Government to act and if they do not it could be the basis for Ms McLaughlin to make a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Office for National Statistics found that there were 3.29 million cohabiting families in the UK in 2017 and cohabitation is the fastest growing family type.

Our specialist Family Law Solicitor Emma Hopkins Jones who is a member of the Resolution Cohabitation Committee says:

“The decision of the Supreme Court, which supports families and their children regardless of how these families are labelled, is encouraging. We hope that is signifies a shift in the approach of the courts and that it puts pressure on the Government to act now to improve the position of cohabitants.

“The law must keep up with changes in society and the way people live their lives. Many people still believe in the “common law marriage myth” but the reality is the law currently gives no special status to cohabiting couples and people are often surprised to find they are without basic legal protections and remedies if their relationship unfortunately ends or one of them dies. This very often leads to unfair outcomes and disproportionately affects women and children.

“There are things that cohabiting couples can do to improve their position; such as preparing a will, as cohabitants have no automatic rights to inherit from their partner, and entering into a declaration of trust and a cohabitation agreement if they live together”.

Rollits' Family team are all specialist lawyers accredited by the Law Society and Resolution with expertise in complex business and personal financial arrangements. They are also trained Collaborative Practitioners and accredited Mediators.

Posted on: 06/09/2018

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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