Cohabitation law and pensions – a cautionary tale

8th March 2015 by

Cohabiting partners are not afforded the same protection in law as married spouses. In many cases when an unmarried couple splits up, or one partner dies, dependants can be left financially vulnerable.

To speak to a family lawyer in Brighton about cohabitating in relation to family law, please contact
Healys LLP. Or, to read more about cohabitation law, please click here.

Pension benefits and unmarried couples

In April 2014, the Pensions Ombudsman published a decision relating to a woman who was denied pension benefits as a result of her marital status at the time of her partner’s death.

The woman had been in a long-term relationship with an Air Commodore when he suddenly passed away in 2011. However, despite a 15-year relationship with the deceased, the woman had not sought a divorce from her husband, from whom she separated in 1993.

AFPS rules on cohabiting couples

Under rules of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme 2005 (AFPS) a surviving adult dependant who was not married to the scheme member at the time of death may receive pension benefits if:

  • the partner and the member were cohabiting as partners in a substantial and exclusive relationship,
  • the partner and the member were not prevented from being married (apart from same-sex relationships), and
  • either the partner was financially dependent on the member or the couple were financially interdependent.

When the woman’s claim for benefits was turned down by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, the woman appealed the decision citing, amongst other things, a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) concerning “other status” and its relation to the status of being married/unmarried. She deemed the Scheme Rules as discriminatory.

She argued that she and the Air Commodore had been married in all but name and their plans to get married, following an engagement in 2009, had been put on hold due to her husband’s health issues which she felt could be exacerbated by divorce proceedings.

When her initial application to the SPVA was being looked into the complainant was issued with a copy of Defence Council Instruction DCI JS3/2004 – Armed Forces Pension Schemes – Attributable Benefits for Unmarried Partners of Service Personnel, which contained full information about eligibility. However, she argued that she, and her partner, had been unaware that her failure to divorce would make her ineligible as a recipient of dependant benefits.

The Deputy Pensions Ombudsman, Jane Irvine, did not uphold the complaint.

Healys family law firms in Brighton and London for cohabitation law issues

Healys has offices in London and Brighton with expert family lawyers available to help you.

If you need legal advice and representation on any matter of family law, including cohabitation law and relationship breakdown, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

You can email us on and we will be happy to call you back to discuss your circumstances.