Thursday 12th October 2023
Showground, Wadebridge

Landmark Legal Ruling for Unmarried Couples

A Supreme Court ruling could have a significant impact on how public sector pensions are distributed to unmarried couples if one partner dies. The news has been welcomed by a Cornish lawyer who is an expert in inheritance disputes.

Davina Haydon, partner in the inheritance and trusts disputes team at Stephens Scown LLP in St Austell said: “Losing a loved one is difficult enough, without having to face additional financial strain – but this is exactly what has been endured by countless unmarried couples, who have not had the legal rights enjoyed by married couples. However, a Supreme Court case looks set to change how public sector pension schemes are shared with unmarried partners on death.”

The case involves Denise Brewster from Northern Ireland. Lenny McMullan, her partner of ten years, proposed on Christmas Eve 2009, then tragically died just two days later. He worked for the Northern Ireland public transport service, Translink and had paid into an occupational pension scheme for 15 years. Ms Brewster was denied access to his pension when he died because he had not filled out a nomination form naming her. If they had been married, she would have benefitted automatically.

After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the requirement for unmarried couples to have to fill out a pension nomination form, which married people did not have to fill out amounted to “unfair discrimination”.

Davina added: “This ruling makes clear that public sector occupational pension schemes are no longer entitled to deny a payment to an unmarried partner simply because the employee had not filled out the relevant form. This will certainly open the door for an unmarried partner to have greater rights upon the death of a loved one – but potentially only in certain circumstances.

“There is no doubt that, historically, the law has been out of step with society and has been unfair to unmarried couples. Anything which will start to address that is to be welcomed. Pension providers have been watching this case with interest, and it will be important to see how they react.”

Stephens Scown’s inheritance and trusts disputes team is ranked the best in Devon and Cornwall for its work challenging Wills by independent guide to the legal profession, Legal 500.

Stephens Scown has over 290 staff, including more than 50 partners, across its offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. It was named UK Law Firm of the Year at the British Legal Awards 2016. For more information visit their website.