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Unmarried Mother Wins 'Landmark' UK Supreme Court Benefit Case

An unmarried mother has won a landmark court case in which it has been ruled that she was discriminated against when prevented from claiming Widowed Parent's Allowance. Tilly Bailey & Irvine's Chartered Legal Executive Wendy Beacom takes up the story....

The spotlight shines again on the issues of cohabitants and their limited rights, following the ruling today that an unmarried mother of four children should now be entitled to claim widowed parent’s allowance.

The allowance is paid to assist with the financial responsibilities of children. 

Siobhan McLaughlin and her partner, John Adams, cohabited for 23 years until his death in January 2014. As they were unmarried, Ms McLaughlin was deemed not to be entitled to the allowance yet a person who was married or in a civil partnership would be.

Her argument was that to deny her the right to this allowance was discriminatory, given that the children’s needs were the same - whether she had been married or not. 

The Supreme Court has today ruled that the withholding of the allowance from Ms McLaughlin amounted to discrimination against all children born out of wedlock. 

The successful outcome of this case for Ms McLaughlin comes after other recent high profile cases in which the appeal courts have ruled that there has been discrimination against surviving unmarried partners.

The first was in relation to one appellant being deemed to have no entitlement to widow’s benefits under a government pension scheme, while the second was denied the entitlement to statutory bereavement damages where there was negligence resulting in the death of her partner.

In both of these cases, the appellants were successful in showing that there was discrimination simply because they were unmarried, although in each of these cases, both had been in longstanding relationships.

A Cohabitation Rights Bill has been introduced to parliament and the first reading of this was in July 2017.  There has been no second reading scheduled despite the length of time since the first reading.

The importance of this Bill is that it would seek to enable fairer settlements of financial disputes between cohabitants given that, at the current time, a financially weaker party has very limited rights to apply for financial orders against the financially stronger party, irrespective of the length of their relationship.

Therefore, the Bill would provide for applications for maintenance, lump sum and transfer of property orders. The Bill also seeks to introduce additional provisions for the surviving partner upon death of the other partner, such as in relation to insurance policies and where the deceased party dies intestate or makes insufficient provision in their will for the surviving partner.

It appears again that legislation is being challenged in order to highlight that, for unmarried parties, the law is often inadequate.

Wendy Beacom specialises in resolving financial issues arising from divorce proceedings and the breakdown of a relationship. If you have a family matter to solve, contact Tilly Bailey & Irvine on 0333 444 4422 for further advice.