New legislation in 2010 introduced rights and obligations for two parties, arising from the length of their cohabitation, in an intimate and committed relationship for a specified period of time. Upon the breakdown of such a relationship either party, if they are deemed to be qualified cohabitants, can apply to the Court for redress.


Qualified Cohabitant:


Under the new law parties will be deemed to be qualified cohabitants where they have lived together for at least 5 years or for 2 years where they have a child together.

Qualified Cohabitants can be of the same or the opposite sex.

The parties must not be within the prohibited degrees of relationship to each other, i.e. they must not be related by blood or marriage. They cannot be married to each other, and they cannot be civil partners of each other.

Either party, to be a qualified cohabitant, cannot be married to another person during the course of the cohabiting relationship, unless that he/she had not being living with their spouse for a period or periods of at least 4 years during the previous 5 years

The Court in determining whether the parties are cohabitants must further consider factors such as


–  The duration and the basis of the relationship.

–  Whether there are dependent children, and care arrangements and support for               those children.

–  Degrees of financial dependence between the parties.

–  Financial arrangements between the parties and interests in land or personal property.

–  The degree to which the parties present themselves as a couple.


Breakdown of Cohabitant Relationship:


Applications can be made to the Court for redress in the form of:


Maintenance orders.

Property Adjustment Orders.

Pension Adjustment Orders.

Provision from the Estate of a deceased cohabitant.


The Court in making the above orders, will consider the financial circumstances, the needs and obligations of each cohabitant, and the rights of dependent children, the duration and nature of the relationship and contributions made by each cohabitant.  The Court must be satisfied that the applicant cohabitant is significantly financially dependent on the other cohabitant and that dependence arises from the relationship or the ending of the relationship.


Cohabitants Agreement:


Cohabitants may enter into an agreement with each other providing for financial matters during their relationship, or when the relationship ends, through death or otherwise. This Agreement can allow the parties to avoid their obligations under law.

The Cohabitants’ Agreement will be valid where both parties have independent legal advice, where the agreement is in writing and signed by both parties, and where the general law of contract is complied with.

The Agreement may provide that neither cohabitant can apply for redress to the Court under the 2010 Act.  The Court can set aside a Cohabitants Agreement where serious injustice might arise.


Rights of Cohabiting Couples in respect of any children:



Because parties in a cohabiting relationship are not married, rights in respect to children are limited, as the non-marital family is not recognised by the Irish Constitution.  The biological mother of the child will have an automatic right to custody and guardianship of the child.  The unmarried father of the child will automatically be a guardian only if he has lived with the child’s mother for 12 consecutive months after the 18th of January, 2016, including at least 3 months after the birth of the child.

If both parents sign a statutory declaration the father can become a joint guardian. See further

Where one of the parties involved is not the biological parent the court can appoint him/her as a guardian where they have cohabited with the child’s parent for over 3 years and the person has shared responsibility for the child’s day-to-day care for more than 2 years. This provisions will also apply to same sex cohabiting couples.



 Since the introduction of the 2015 Child and Family Relationships Act, cohabiting couples can jointly adopt a child and their rights in respect of their child are now the same as those of a married couple and their adopted child. However, this part of the Act has not yet commenced.


Further Information:


Citizens Information provides very comprehensive information on many of the key issues arising for cohabiting couples in light of the significant new rights and responsibilities now automatically arising. This information outlines the rights and responsibilities of cohabitants in respect of maintenance, property rights, and succession rights. The crucial issue of the adoption process as it applies to cohabiting couples is also explained by Citizens Information.

In respect of the impact of cohabitation on the parenting role, Treoir have produced a document providing information for unmarried parents.




Citizens Information

The Legal Aid Board

Free Legal Advice Centres

One Family

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