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Pl. n.

Unmarried sexual partners who are living in a long-term stable relationship. English law, unlike that of some other jurisdictions, provides no coherent approach towards cohabitation and, unless a specific statutory provision provides otherwise, cohabitants are treated in law no differently than two strangers. The most crucial legal difference between a married and an unmarried couple is that, in the event of the relationship breaking down, the courts have no power to require one partner to transfer property to the other or to pay maintenance. The other important distinction is that if one party dies intestate (i.e. without making a will), then the remaining unmarried partner, unlike a spouse, has no automatic right to inherit all or part of the estate. An application can be made, however, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. In relation to any children, the distinction between “illegitimate” and “legitimate” children has now almost disappeared (see illegitimacy). An unmarried father will automatically have parental responsibility for any child born after December 1993. Unmarried partners are protected under domestic violence legislation, although the degree of protection offered is slightly less than that offered to their married counterparts. Normally statutes conferring rights on cohabitants apply only to heterosexual partners; however, a recent case decided that the phrase “as husband and wife” includes same-sex couples (Ghaidan v Mendoza [2002] 3 FCR 591 (CA). This decision gave a homosexual partner the right to succeed to a tenancy on the death of his partner but could have wider implications. Same-sex partners now have the right to register a civil partnership.

Subjects: Law.

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