The number of cohabiting couples in Ireland is increasing

See how the Law Society’s legal guides can help you.

  • There are 152,302 cohabiting couples in Ireland
  • Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples or civil partnerships
  • Cohabiting couples can find free, accessible information on their rights on the Law Society’s legal guides webpage

The number of cohabiting couples in Ireland is on the rise. Of the 1.22 million families in Ireland (Census 2016), 152,302 couples are counted as cohabiting - an increase of six per cent since 2011.

'Cohabitants' are two adults living in a long-term, committed relationship, sharing expenses, possibly with children, but not in a legal union. It refers to same-sex as well as heterosexual relationships. Generally, to be considered a cohabiting couple, the couple must have lived together for five years, or two years if they have a child together.

Nationwide, the number of cohabiting couples with children is also growing. Census 2016 shows 75,587 cohabiting couples in Ireland are living with children, an increase of nearly one quarter (24.4 per cent) since 2011.

Cohabiting couples and the law

Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples or civil partnerships. However, under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, some cohabitating couples do hold some legal rights in relation to their cohabitating partner.  

Keith Walsh is Chair of the Law Society’s Family Law Committee and says Ireland has one of the most progressive laws for cohabitants in Europe and is way ahead of the UK.

“Many people mistakenly think there is something called ‘common law’ husband or wife. This doesn’t exist,” says Keith Walsh. 

“Solicitors have dealt with a lot of cohabitant cases since the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 came into force on 1st January 2011. Most cohabitants did not realise that they were cohabitants or that they had rights following the breakdown of the relationship or the death of their cohabitant.”

Legal Guides

The Law Society of Ireland has developed a number of free, accessible legal guides to help members of the public with their legal queries. The guides, available on the Law Society’s website, contain key information on 11 different areas of law including consumer rights, dispute resolution, employment law, getting a legal quote and more.

The family law legal guide provides basic information on legal rights for cohabiting couples. These rights can include a right to seek maintenance from the other partner, or apply for financial provision from his or her estate.

“The Law Society’s legal guides are a great way of finding out your rights; they are to the point and will help guide you to what you need to know. However, they are intended as a guide only and do no substitute for professional legal advice,” says Keith Walsh.

“If you are a cohabitant who qualifies for rights then you could apply for maintenance for yourself, for part of your partner’s pension, for inheritance-type rights if your partner dies, for rights in relation to property whether jointly owned or not. There are time limits for these rights so it is important you talk to your solicitor straight away.”

Solicitors can also access multi-lingual client care leaflets to explain legal issues.

Making a will

Unlike a married couple or civil partnership, there is no automatic right of inheritance on the death of either partner in a cohabiting relationship. Making a will ensures that when you die your property and other possessions go to the people that you choose. 

“Make sure you make a will whether you are a cohabitant, single or married, separated or divorced as a simple will can save a huge amount of heartache,” says Keith Walsh.

“Talk to your solicitor for advice on making a will and information on this matter.“

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