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What should happen when the partners have only been together for a short time before one of them dies?

When a couple separates while both partners are alive, the normal rules of property division do not apply if the relationship has only lasted a short time. Instead, special rules apply when a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship has lasted less than three years. We look at those rules here.

When one partner dies, those special rules change in several ways if the surviving partner chooses to divide the couple’s property under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976.

The special rules do not apply if a marriage or civil union has lasted less than three years before the partner died. Instead, the couple will divide their relationship property as if the relationship had lasted a long time.

In contrast, if the couple were in a de facto relationship of less than three years, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 will not apply at all when one partner dies (unless there would be a serious injustice).

The law treats marriages and civil unions of less than three years differently to de facto relationships of less than three years when one partner dies.

When one partner dies, the partners to the marriage or civil union have not decided to separate. The law says it is reasonable to assume that, had the partner not died, the relationship would continue.

The law does not make the same assumption about de facto relationships. Possibly the law assumes partners to a de facto relationship of less than three years are less committed to the relationship than partners in a marriage or civil union of the same length.

We want to know what you think about these rules and the assumptions behind them.

What do you think?

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