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Pension ruling throws a spotlight on cohabiting couples
23 Jul 2019

A landmark ruling that will allow the partner of a deceased military officer to benefit from his pension is the latest in a line of cases that throws the spotlight on the lack of rights cohabiting couples have.

Jane Langford had not been entitled to receive any of her late partner’s pension, despite their 15-year relationship, as she was still married having never formally divorced her estranged husband.    

The Court of Appeal has now ruled that the decision not to pay Ms Langford a survivor’s pension was unlawful, potentially opening the floodgates for more claims. Senior Solicitor Emma Smith discusses the case:  

There are no specific laws that relate to cohabitation – the concept of a common law husband and wife is a myth and the belief that you accrue more rights the longer you live together is also untrue.   It is wrong to assume that cohabiting partners will have the same rights on separation or death to claim against their former partners’ pensions and assets as a married couple do. 

There is currently a Cohabitation Bill passing through Parliament, albeit very slowly, that will change the rights for cohabiting couples but we don’t know when this will become law. 

Our advice for unmarried couples is to always seek legal advice on your rights and consider what your position might be if you separated or your partner died.

Making a will or entering into a cohabitation agreement will regulate the terms of your relationship to avoid unwanted or unintended consequences like Jane Langford endured at a time when she was grieving.

Her case also raises another important legal lesson - now she has become entitled to a pension and possibly other assets her partner might have left her, there is a risk it could be taken into account in any divorce proceedings brought by her estranged husband.

It is always best to resolve your financial claims arising from divorce at the time you separate for precisely this reason.

Emma advises on all family matters and specialises in divorce, separation, cohabitation, financial matters arising from relationship breakdown and disputes involving children. Emma is a Collaboratively Trained Family Lawyer and encourages her clients to resolve their disputes in a non-confrontational way, to reduce the stress of a difficult situation.

Meet Emma Smith