Living with your Partner and the Law

This summer saw the introduction of a new Act called the ‘Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, 2010.  In this article I shall deal only with Cohabitants.  I shall deal with Civil Partnerships in another article.
Up to now couples who cohabit (even for many years) acquired no rights against each other. By virtue of this new Act, the position of a vulnerable cohabitant has changed.
A cohabitant is defined as one of two adults living together as a couple in an intimate relationship. In deciding whether a couple are cohabitants for the purposes of the Act the Court will take account of such circumstances as the duration of the relationship, the degree of financial dependence, dependent children etc. If you feel aggrieved and wish, to bring an application to the Court you and your partner must be living together as a couple for a period of two years or more where there are children of the relationship and five years or more where there are no children of the relationship.
However, there is confusion over whether rights on cohabitation arise automatically. This is not the case. Cohabitants only have a right to apply to the Court for relief. If you satisfy the Court that you come within the above definitions, you may apply to the Court under a redress scheme for certain Orders such as Property Adjustment Orders, Compensatory Maintenance Orders, Pension Adjustment Orders or provision from the estate of a deceased cohabitant etc. Any applications under the redress scheme will be dealt with in the family court and in private.
As well as the redress scheme, the Act now provides for the validity of Cohabitants’ Agreement, which provide for financial matters during the relationship or at the end of the relationship. Specific procedures need to be followed when putting together such an agreement (for example the agreement must be in writing, signed by both etc) and caution should be exercised. The Cohabitants’ Agreement can provide that neither cohabitant may apply to Court under the redress scheme. The Act also allows the Court to vary or set aside such an agreement where its enforceability causes a serious injustice.
Finally, we must wait for the budget to find out the tax implications of being a qualified cohabitant. It may be that a cohabitant will be treated as a spouse for tax purposes in the very near future!
-Aoife Thornton