Redress scheme for cohabiting couples
If you have been living in an intimate and committed relationship with your partner and your relationship ends, you may be able to avail of the ‘redress scheme for cohabiting couples’. The aim of the redress scheme is to protect a financially dependent member of the couple if the long-term cohabiting relationship ends (either through death or separation).
Under the redress scheme, cohabiting couples can get similar orders from the court as are available to married couples when they separate or divorce (for example, a ‘maintenance order’ or ‘property adjustment order’).
The rules of the scheme are set out in the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.
What are cohabitants?
Cohabitants are 2 adults of the same-sex or opposite-sex who are:
- Not married to each other and not in a registered civil partnership
- Not related within the prohibited degrees of relationship. Certain people related by blood or marriage cannot get married.
- Living together in an intimate and committed relationship
What are 'qualified' cohabitants?
To apply for court orders under the redress scheme, you must be a qualified cohabitant. This means you must have been:
- A cohabitant (living together in an intimate and committed relationship) for at least 5 years, or
- A cohabitant (living together in an intimate and committed relationship) for 2 years if you have had a child with your partner
Applying for redress from the court
If you are a qualified cohabitant and you were financially dependent on your former partner, you can apply to the court for court orders, such as:
- A maintenance order
- Property adjustment order
- Pension adjustment order
If your partner has died, you can apply for provisions to be made for you from their estate.
You do not have an automatic right to get these orders granted. Instead, the court must be satisfied that you were financially dependent on your cohabitant partner.
What the court will consider
When making a decision, the court must consider a number of factors, including:
- The financial circumstances, needs and obligations of you and your former partner
- The rights of others (including the rights of spouses, former spouses, civil partners, former civil partners and dependent children of either partner)
- The length and nature of the relationship
- The contributions made by each of you, financial and otherwise
Court orders may not affect the rights of spouses or former spouses. They may affect the rights of civil partners or former civil partners.
Time limits when applying for court orders under the redress scheme
In general, you must apply for court orders within 2 years of the end of your relationship.
If your partner has died, you must make an application for provision from their estate within 6 months of an application for a grant of probate.
Orders usually lapse and will no longer be available if you get married.
Redress orders and tax
If you are granted certain court orders under the redress scheme, you may have tax obligations.
Maintenance orders and tax
Any maintenance payment ordered by the court is treated as your income. This means you have to pay tax on it.
The amount of the maintenance payment is allowed as a deduction from the income of your former partner. You can read more in our page on maintenance and tax.
Property adjustment orders and tax
However, when the property is disposed of at a later date, the total period of ownership of the property (by both of you) is taken into consideration for the purposes of determining whether any capital gains tax is payable.
What is a cohabitation agreement?
If you live with your partner but you do not intend to marry, you should protect your financial interests by entering into a ‘cohabitation agreement’ (also called a cohabitant’s agreement). This is a voluntary, signed agreement, which allows you to specify the day-to-day joint financial arrangements of your relationship, such as:
- The payment of joint debts
- The payment of common household expenses
You can also specify how you plan to separate your assets, such as shared property, should the relationship come to an end. In the event of a break-up, a cohabitation agreement can make the division of your assets more straightforward.
Your cohabitation agreement may include a provision that the redress scheme does not apply to you (for example, you can both agree not to apply for a maintenance order should your relationship end). This is different from similar agreements by married couples. Agreements between married couples cannot exclude either party’s right to apply to the courts for various orders (for example, a maintenance order).
Is a cohabitation agreement valid in court?
If you and your partner make a cohabitation agreement (an agreement on joint financial matters), it is only valid if:
- Each of you has had independent legal advice, or you got legal advice together and have waived the right to independent legal advice (see ‘More information’ below)
- The agreement is a contract
- The agreement has been signed by each of you
In exceptional circumstances, the court may set aside or vary (change) your cohabitation agreement (for example, if the enforcement of the agreement would cause serious injustice).
If you and your cohabitant entered into an agreement before the 2010 Act commenced, it is enforceable.
If you are concerned about your rights following the breakdown of your cohabiting relationship, you should get legal advice.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area. FLAC also runs an information and referral line during office hours for basic legal information.
If you are eligible for legal aid and advice from the Legal Aid Board, you must pay a contribution towards costs (except in cases of extreme hardship). Contact your nearest law centre for information on legal aid.
You can find contact details for solicitors and firms throughout Ireland on lawsociety.ie. Solicitors' fees in Ireland are not fixed and can vary considerably so you are advised to shop around.