Unmarried Mum Wins Court Battle Over Widow’s Allowance

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The number of unmarried couples living together in the UK has doubled in the last 20 years. Unmarried couples, also known as cohabitants, are the fastest growing family type in the country, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The financial rights of cohabitee’s has been in the press recently and on 30 August 2018, the Supreme Court handed down a Judgment which some are calling a ‘landmark ruling’.

Siobhan McLaughlin, a mother of 4 lost her partner in 2014. She has, since then, been fighting a battle to get support for herself and her children.

Ms McLaughlin applied for a Widowed Parents Allowance but her application was refused because she was not a ‘surviving spouse’. The case was taken to the Supreme Court who on 30 August 2018, gave judgment which confirmed that the Northern Ireland Department for Communities decision not to pay her a widowed parents allowance contravened her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, in her lead judgment said ‘the allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married to or in a civil partnership with one another. The purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent. That loss is the same whether or not the parents are married or in a civil partnership with one another.’

Whilst this judgment certainly gives unmarried couples legal ground on which to assert their rights and receive the same protection and benefits as married couples, the Supreme Court were very clear that the justices reached their decision on the very specific facts of Ms McLaughlin’s circumstances.

The decision comes at a time when there is significant pressure on the government to revisit its policy and decide whether and if so, how, the law relating to Cohabitants should be changed. It is of course hoped that the judgment places further pressure on the government to deal with this complex and often misunderstood area of the law.

Kate Ryan, a partner in the Family Team, discussed the judgment on Radio London today.

 

Family and Divorce Law Expert Kate Ryan Interviewed on BBC

If you are an unmarried partner and have questions about the law relating to your financial circumstances if your relationship breaks down, please contact our family team on 03456 381381.