As more and more couples choose to live together without getting married, the perception of the traditional family unit has changed significantly, which is why a greater understanding of cohabitation laws in Ireland is needed.

There’s no doubt that our society has certainly progressed in leaps and bounds, changing the way we live together. Irish law has adapted to these changes, providing some protections and obligations for couples who live together but aren’t married. According to the 2022 census in Ireland, the number of cohabiting couples with children currently stands at over 85k, which is an increase of 12.7% from the previous census in 2016. However, despite the growing number of cohabiting couples, cohabitation law remains a complex area.

This article delves into the intricacies of these laws, offering cohabiting couples a comprehensive understanding of their legal rights, responsibilities, and protections under Irish law.


An introduction to cohabitation laws in Ireland


The piece of legislation that covers the rights of cohabiting couples is called the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. Essentially this act gives cohabiting couples legal rights and protection concerning their partner.

From a legal standpoint, it’s important to understand what is qualified as a cohabiting couple. A couple must show that they have lived together for five years or more, or two years if the couple have dependent children together. If either party is still legally married to another or hasn’t been separated from their spouse for the required time, this can prevent them from qualifying as a cohabitant. There are also some restrictions surrounding the timeframe. An application must be made to the Court within two years of the relationship coming to an end.


The legal status of cohabiting couples


Rights and obligations under cohabitation law in Ireland


Cohabiting couples in Ireland do not automatically acquire the same legal rights and obligations as married couples or those in civil partnerships. However, the aforementioned Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 marked a significant step forward, offering some level of protection for cohabiting partners. Here are some of the key aspects:


  • Property rights: Unlike married couples, cohabiting partners do not have an automatic entitlement to each other’s property upon separation
  • Financial support: The Act allows for maintenance orders in certain circumstances, where one partner is financially dependent on the other
  • Inheritance: Cohabiting partners are not automatically entitled to inherit from each other without a will, but the Act allows for applications for provision from a deceased partner’s estate under certain conditions
  • Pensions: The Court may order an adjustment for a pension belonging to either partner


The breakdown of any long-term relationship can be overwhelming and stressful, particularly for couples with children, property, or financial assets. When we consider the dramatic changes to the laws surrounding marriage and cohabitation in the last decade alone, it’s no surprise that cohabiting couples are unaware of their legal rights should their relationship come to an end. This is where having a legal arrangement in place can be truly worthwhile.


Cohabitation Laws In Ireland - What Couples Need To Know - Summit Law (2)


The importance of legal agreements for cohabiting couples


Whilst nobody has a crystal ball into the future of their relationship, it’s certainly wise to be prepared should a couple decide to separate. Given that the concept of cohabitation in Ireland is relatively new, the legal framework of this is tricky to navigate. For couples who have opted to live together without going down the formal route of marriage, entering into a cohabitation agreement is the smart choice. Such agreements can outline the management of financial affairs, property ownership, and what happens in the event of separation. Benefits include:


  • Clarity and peace of mind regarding each partner’s rights and responsibilities
  • Protection of interests, particularly regarding property and finances
  • Avoidance of potential disputes by having clear, agreed-upon terms


How cohabitation is treated differently from marriage


While there have been significant developments in the laws surrounding cohabitation, the fact remains that marriage and cohabitation are still treated distinctly in the eyes of the law. There are significant differences between the two in terms of legal rights and protections.

For instance, cohabiting couples must often prove financial dependency to gain maintenance rights, a requirement not placed on married couples. Additionally, the legal framework around property and inheritance rights differs considerably, highlighting the need for sound legal advice and cohabitation agreements.


Legal advice for cohabiting couples from Summit Law


At Summit Law, we understand the unique challenges and concerns faced by cohabiting couples in Ireland. Our Family Law team specialises in providing comprehensive legal support to cohabiting couples, ensuring you’re fully informed and your interests are safeguarded. Contact us today to discuss your situation and how we can help you make sense of your legal position and ensure you are protected in the event of a separation.

Be sure to also check out our blog and resources page for more legal advice and guidance in Ireland.