On a day to day basis for most couples there is little difference between marriage and cohabiting. Long term co-habiting couples will view themselves as being effectively a married couple in all but name.
There may be various reasons as to why a couple would chose not to get married. However, there are significant financial benefits in getting married in particular when it comes to the tax situation. It is essential that cohabiting couples at the very least make a Will in an effort to deal with their estates and in the most tax advantageous fashion possible.
The Succession Act which goes back to 1965 clearly did not envisage cohabitation. Under that legislation surviving spouses have automatic rights to their late spouse’s estate. Our taxation system is somewhat outmoded and treats cohabitees in a less favourable fashion than spouses. Spouses have a significant tax free threshold before the inheritance becomes taxable (gifts taken by a civil partner are exempt from Capital Acquisition Tax). However, cohabitees are considered strangers and effectively would pay almost a third of the value of the assets in tax.
Significantly the position of children regardless as to whether their parents are married, civil partners or cohabitees is the same. Cohabitees are also treated less favourable by the Social Welfare system and do not have rights to contributory pensions, widow(er) pensions and surviving civil partnership pensions. They will not be treated as surviving “spouses” in respect of their cohabitees’ occupational pension. They are also treated less favourably in terms of income tax and allowances. Therefore there would appear to be good societal reasons as to why the Government should legislate to protect cohabiting couples who may not be aware as to their vulnerability until something happens.