New legislation was introduced early last year to a lot of publicity as it introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples. This legislation also included a number of very important changes to the law which had applied to couples, both heterosexual and same-sex, who live together for a period of time and then separate. This part of the legislation applies to a much greater proportion of society but was greeted with much less publicity, despite the fact that it may have a much greater affect on people's lives without them realising it.
Prior to the introduction of this legislation, co-habiting couples had no legal obligations to each other on separation unless they purchased property together. This new law has completely changed the situation for co-habiting couples as, once they reach the time threshold, a number of potential financial obligations accrue. This is particularly the case where the couple may have children and one of the parents, usually the mother, stays at home, to the detriment of her earning potential, to look after the children. Prior to the new law being enacted, the father only had an obligation to provide for the children of the couple if the relationship breaks down but now he may also face providing a level of maintenance for his ex-partner, a totally new departure in Irish law. The legislation allows the Courts to make a number of orders, similar to those where the couple was married, in relation to property, pensions and maintenance on separation.