Siobhan McLaughlin has fought a desperate battle since her partner, John Adams, died in 2014. Ms McLaughlin applied for a widowed parent’s allowance to help support her and their four children, but her application was refused because she and Mr Adams were unmarried. Despite living together for 23 years and raising a family, the law states that the widowed parent’s allowance is only available to surviving spouses or civil partners.
Ms McLaughlin’s predicament is one shared by many families in the UK. Unmarried couples, also known as cohabitants, are the fastest growing family type in the country, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
McLaughlin’s case has been supported by the Supreme Court, which has ruled today that the Northern Ireland Department for Communities’ decision not to pay her the widowed parent’s allowance contravened her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a welcome victory for McLaughlin in a long-running and no doubt emotionally taxing dispute. It is a positive outcome for other unmarried couples in England and Wales too, suggesting that they have sound legal grounds to assert their rights and receive the same protection and benefits as married couples.