Unmarried Couples – “Unregistered Cohabitants”

The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 also confers certain benefits on unmarried couples which it refers to as “unregistered cohabitants”.

These are rights available to opposite sex couples who are not married and to same sex couples who have not registered their relationship as a civil partnership. You will be recognised as cohabitants if you are living together for five or more years or for two years where the couple has a child together. In determining whether or not two adults are cohabitants the court will take into account all circumstances of the relationship. Cohabitants cannot be married, in a civil partnership or related. They must be living together in an intimate and committed relationship.

Cohabitants also have the option to enter into an agreement so the rights imposed by the act won’t have an effect on them.

Economically dependent cohabitants now have enforceable rights through the Courts. Once a Court is satisfied you were financially dependent and also that the financial dependence arises from the relationship or the ending of the relationship it may make certain order to protect the financially dependent partner/cohabitant.

The Court may make:

  • Property Adjustment Orders – identical to the property adjustment order available on separation and divorce (sale of    property/ exclusion etc.).
  • Compensatory Maintenance Orders – periodical payments and lump sum payments and the periodical payments can be for life and the attachment of earnings mechanism is also available.
  • Pension Adjustment Orders– A portion of the pension available to the financially stronger partner in a relationship can be adjusted for a direct payment to dependent cohabitee/partner.

Provision from the estate of a deceased Cohabitee may be made for the survivor of them under Section 194.

Whether a party gets any interest in property will depend largely on the specific circumstances in each case and you should be properly advised before considering any action.

Any claims under the redress scheme are to be made within 2 years of the end of the relationship, by death or otherwise.

Voluntary Agreements

Cohabiting partners may make enforceable financial agreements to exclude the effect of the Act and/or the redress scheme to their relationship. Certain formalities must be adhered to for these agreements to be enforceable between cohabitant partners for example:

  • Each has had independent legal advice or they have received legal advice together and have waived the right to independent legal advice and
  • The agreement constitutes a contract
  • The agreement has been signed by both partners

Such an agreement may include a provision that the redress scheme does not apply to them.

Social Welfare

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2010 provides for the changes in social welfare law required to give cohabitants broadly the same social welfare rights as married couples. As of 1 January 2010:

  • Civil partners are eligible for survivors’ benefits in the same way as married couples.
  • Civil partners are liable to maintain each other and are now subject to the provisions of the social welfare code relating to liability for maintenance.
  • One of the couple in a civil partnership or a same-sex cohabitant may be regarded as a qualified adult for social welfare purposes if he/she meets the usual conditions.
  • Civil partners and cohabitants are treated in the same way as married couples in respect of means-tested payments. This means that as well as having the means of each member of the couple taken into account, the total payments to such couples may be limited if one of them is getting a means-tested payment.

We are happy to meet you for a no obligation consultation to discuss your situation and your rights and entitlements.


Caoimhe Connolly
Caoimhe Connolly
Email: caoimhe@moranryan.com
Seamus Connolly
Seamus Connolly
Email: sconnolly@moranryan.com