Until 2010 the law offered little or no legal protection to persons who were living together in long-term relationships, but not married. Person in those relationships were often referred to as ‘common law’ spouses. However, that term never had any legal basis. Legal rights and obligations only arose upon marriage.

The legal position was changed by the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, 2010. In addition to introducing the concept of Civil Partnership, that act made provision for certain rights and obligations between co-habiting couples. However, there are significant limitations as to whom the law applies and further it does not confer the same level of rights as would apply between married persons. In order to acquire rights under the Act, a person must show that:

– they have been living with their partner for 5 years (or 2 years if the co-habitants have child(ren) together);
– The relationship is an “intimate and committed” one;
– That the person seeking to make a claim against their partner is “financially dependent” as a consequence of having lived with their partner

The Act is somewhat less restrictive where a co-habitant makes a claim against the Estate of their deceased partner.

As a consequence of the restrictions in the 2010 Act, co-habitation claims necessarily involve a detailed, and at times difficult, look at a person’s relationship. As with all circumstances of relationship breakdown, we advise our clients in a sympathetic but professional way and seek always to achieve practical and client-focused solutions.