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Woman wins legal battle: better rights for unmarried couples

Posted on December 5th 2017

A historic decision for unmarried couples, as woman wins legal fight over bereavement payments.

In 2011, Jakki Smith lost her partner of 16 years, John Bullock, to an infection after medics missed it. If a married person dies because of negligence, the government pays a fixed sum of £12,980 to their spouse or civil partner. Despite being with her partner for 16 years, Ms Smith was denied the bereavement payment. This is representative of the lack of rights many unmarried couples currently have.

A breach of human rights:

In response, Ms Smith took the government to court, arguing that it was a breach of human rights to deny her the same damages as married couples. Overall, Ms Smith wanted the court to recognise that unmarried couples’ relationships are just as valid as married couples. The Law Commission had previously recommended that couples who live together should be eligible for bereavement damages.

For Ms Smith, it was never about the money, but about “having meaningful relationships recognised.” Despite winning in court, Ms Smith will not receive any damages because there is no possibility of a retrospective payment.

Her legal team argued that the current legislation was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. They state that the award should be available to anyone who has been in a relationship for at least two years.

Hopefully, this historic decision will lead to legislative change in the future. Currently, many unmarried couples wrongly believe that they have certain rights if their relationship breaks down.

The myth of ‘common-law’ marriage:

Cohabitating couples are now the fastest growing family-type in the UK. Despite this, it is possible to live with someone for years and have children, but not have any rights concerning children, property or money if the relationship ends.

A lack of cohabitee rights:

If you are living with your unmarried partner, the following could happen:

  • If your partner dies without a will, you will not automatically inherit anything. You also cannot access your partner’s bank account when they die.
  • If one partner stays at home to care for children, they cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance, or pension sharing.
  • Cohabitating partners do not legally have to support each other financially.

How can we help?

If your relationship breaks down, we are here to advise you on how to protect your interests during your relationship. Visit our page about living together here. Contact one of our experienced family solicitors today on 01244 312306 or visit our family pages for more information.

Call and speak to a lawyer on 01244 312306