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Posted on: 4 January 2024 by Goodwins Family Law Solicitors
In recent decades, the trend of cohabiting couples — those who live together without being married — has seen a significant increase. This shift in societal norms brings into focus the legal implications of such relationships, especially when they end.
A critical point of dispute is the rights to pensions. In this article, we discuss the legalities regarding pension entitlement should a cohabiting relationship come to an end.
Cohabiting couples in the UK do not enjoy the same legal protections as married couples, particularly in the division of assets during a separation.
Unlike in a divorce, where pensions are considered marital assets and divided accordingly, cohabiting partners have no automatic claim to each other’s pension entitlements upon separation.
The type of pension scheme can play a significant role in determining whether a former partner may have any claim. For example, public sector pension schemes may have specific rules for cohabiting partners, as highlighted by a Supreme Court ruling in Northern Ireland in 2017, which granted an individual access to her late partner’s local government pension scheme. However, such instances are exceptions and depend heavily on the individual pension scheme’s rules. Most private pension schemes do not provide for cohabiting partners unless explicitly stated.
Given the lack of automatic legal protection, cohabiting couples must take proactive steps to safeguard their financial interests. One effective tool is the cohabitation agreement. This agreement can outline how assets, including pensions, should be handled in the event of a separation. While not as legally binding as marriage, a well-drafted cohabitation agreement provides a clear understanding of each partner’s financial rights and expectations. It can also serve as an essential piece of evidence in legal proceedings should disputes arise over the splitting of the assets.
A cohabitation agreement can include various aspects of a couple’s financial life, including property ownership, responsibility for debts and pension sharing. It can specify how each partner’s assets — acquired before and during the cohabitation — will be treated in case of a separation. While these agreements are not ironclad like marital contracts, they offer a significant degree of legal clarity and protection.
Seeking professional legal advice is the best way to ensure you receive the right advice for your specifical situation. Family law experts such as Goodwins Family Law Solicitors can provide invaluable guidance on drafting a comprehensive and legally sound cohabitation agreement.
At Goodwins Family Law Solicitors, we specialise in addressing the unique challenges faced by cohabiting couples. Our expertise includes the drafting of cohabitation agreements that protect both partners’ interests, offering peace of mind and legal security in a relationship without the formal bonds of marriage.
Read further advice and guidance in our online Advice Centre.
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