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Unmarried couples: the rights of their children

View profile for Kathryn Moggs
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The rights of the children of unmarried parents are forever changed after a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court.

Facts

A mother of four, Siobhan McLaughlin, lost her long-term partner of 23 years in 2014. The couple had never been married but did, however, have 4 children together who are now aged 15, 16, 21 and 23.

Upon her partner’s death McLaughlin was told that her late partner’s national insurance contributions were enough to qualify her for Widowed Parent’s Allowance (a benefit which helps to provide for the children of a deceased parent). This would have entitled McLaughlin to roughly £117.00 extra per week. However, it was the case that this benefit was only available to those who were either married or in a Civil Partnership.

Claim

Mclaughlin challenged the legality of this policy at the High Court on the basis that it was discriminatory against the children of unmarried couples. Her claim was initially successful but was subsequently overturned upon appeal.

McLaughlin eventually brought the matter to the Supreme Court, where on 30 August 2018 the court overturned the decision made on appeal in saying that not paying benefits when a couple was unmarried breached the Human Rights act because it discriminated on the basis of marriage or birth.

Effect

Within her judgement Lady Hale said that “the allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married to or in a civil partnership with one another.”

This case brings light to the way that the law differentiates between married and unmarried couples and helps to bring family law into the 21st century.

It is impossible to say how far reaching the effects of this decision may be. However, undoubtedly this will at the very least pose an encouraging precedent for unmarried couples looking to protect the rights of their children.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues in this case please do not hesitate to contact either Wendy Armstrong or Kathryn Moggs in the Family Department.

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