Case win for Northern Ireland unmarried mother could help 1.2million couples

By Lenore Rice

A Northern Ireland woman has won her case before the Supreme Court challenging whether the denial of Widowed Parent's Allowance (WPA) to unmarried partners is incompatible with human rights.

Siobhan McLaughlin lived with her partner John Adams for 23 years and they had 4 children together. Because the couple never married Ms McLaughlin was not eligible to claim Widowed Parent's Allowance when Mr Adams died in 2014. She is the sole provider for her 4 children, working 2 jobs to support the family. She challenged the requirement for parents to be married or in a civil partnership in order to be eligible for WPA, and the UK's Supreme Court held that the criteria was incompatible with human rights law.

The Supreme Court cannot change the law, but by saying the criteria is unlawful and in breach of human rights, it has put huge pressure on the UK's legislatures to change the law to make it compliant. The Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it would consider the court's ruling carefully, though reiterated that the decision did not change the current requirement that couples must be married or in a civil partnership.

If the criteria for entitlement to WPA is changed it will benefit approximately 1.2million co-habiting parents in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It would also benefit the other 2.1million co-habiting couples if they were to go on to have children.

Ms McLaughlin's solicitor, Laura Banks, said the decision would benefit "thousands of children throughout the UK", and said that her client has said throughout that it is "wrong that her children should be treated any different than children whose parents are married".

If you require legal advice in respect of a matter connected to co-habitation or children's rights, contact one of the family law solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt in Bangor or Belfast by clicking here.