Unmarried cohabitant couples do not have the legal status of married couples and thus do not enjoy the benefits attached to married couples, which includes tax, pension, medical and public housing benefits. The most important fact is that, regardless of how long the cohabitants have been living together, cohabitant couples are not recognized as married couples under the law. Thus, cohabitant couples fall outside the scope of the rights enjoyed by married couples.
A. Estate provision
According to the Intestate Estate Ordinance (IEO), Cap. 73 , if a person has not married his/her cohabiting partner, and his/her cohabiting partner dies intestate (without a will), he/she cannot share in the estate of his/her cohabiting partner( section 4 ). According to section 2 of the IEO , “intestate” also includes a person who leaves a will but dies intestate as to some beneficial interest in his/her estate.
However, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Ordinance ( Cap. 481 ) provides a way for a cohabiting partner to apply for financial provision from his/her deceased partner, even if the deceased partner leaves no will and no legal status of husband or wife exists. According to section 3(1)(b)(ix) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Ordinance , any person who has been maintained wholly or substantially by the deceased immediately before the deceased’s death can apply for financial provision from the deceased person’s estate. Therefore, if a cohabiting partner can prove that he/she has been maintained by the deceased partner, then he/she can still receive maintenance from the deceased’s estate.
B. Protection from violence in cohabitation
Hong Kong laws seek to protect cohabitants from violence in their relationships. The Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance ( Cap. 189 ) allows victims of violence, whether in marriage or cohabitation relationships, to seek legal remedies and apply for court injunctions. For example, a person may apply for a restraining order to prevent the perpetrator or abusive partner from entering or remaining in their residence: under ( Section 3B of the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance ).
For more details about domestic violence, please read “ Domestic violence and assistance ”.
C. Parental Rights
Where unmarried cohabitants have children, the mother has all the rights and authority regarding the child’s custody and upbringing, while the natural father does not have automatic parental rights. To enjoy parental rights, the natural father must make an application for a Court Order under ( Section 3(1)(c) of the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance , Cap. 13 ).
D. Upon Separation
In the event of a breakdsown in their relationship, cohabitants do not enjoy any legal rights. In particular, the law does not provide unmarried separated couples the same rights that are enjoyed by divorced couples following the breakdown of their marriage.