Unmarried couples do not share the same rights and obligations as married couples or couples in a civil partnership. If they are cohabitants, however, they may have some rights.
Unmarried couple’s rights
An unmarried couple does not have any legal rights unless they are cohabitants. To qualify for rights as a cohabiting couple, a childless couple must have been living together for at least five years, and parents must be living together for at least two years. Both parties must be unmarried at the time of the breakup of the relationship, or, if they are married, they must have been separated from their spouse for at least four of the previous five years.
If a couple qualifies as cohabitants, they can apply to a court under the redress scheme. This provides protections for financially dependent cohabitants that are broadly similar to those available to married couples when they separate or divorce. If one cohabitant dies, the surviving cohabitant can apply for support from the estate of the deceased cohabitant.
Couples who live together can also establish cohabitant agreements to provide for what would happen in the event of separation. If a couple owns property together and they separate, the property is usually owned by the party in whose name it is held. If it is held in both names, they will have to decide how to deal with it upon their separation. If it is in the name of one of the parties and the other party contributed towards it, they can apply to a court for a share of the property.
A couple who intends to marry can make a prenuptial agreement to set out their respective rights with regard to property, debts, income and other assets bought or acquired during the relationship. It details how they will divide their assets and what will happen to their finances if they divorce or separate. The agreement may also cover succession rights, children, custody access, maintenance, and pensions.
The Irish courts do not have to enforce your prenuptial agreement if your relationship breaks down later, which is why it is important for you to consult a solicitor to ensure your agreement includes all the right elements to best protect your interests.
Relationships in later life can have legal implications for the families involved. You need to consider any measures you need to take to protect yourself and your family if you or a relative is entering a new relationship. It is particularly important for anyone with children from a previous marriage or relationship, who may need to update their wills. People also need to avoid being exploited during vulnerable moments in later life.
You may need legal advice on:
- Marrying or living with a new partner. The law will affect you differently if you choose to marry the person you live with or not.
- Family asset protection. You need to ensure treasured assets such as jewellery, art, or a family home are protected.
- Making or updating a Will. Ensure that your loved ones will inherit from your estate.
- Pre- or post-nuptial agreements.