Partner of dead firefighter lays into bereavement law

Witney Gazette: Nikki Saunders Nikki Saunders

A MOTHER whose partner was killed in a road accident has called for a change in law to help unmarried couples.

Nicci Saunders’s partner of seven years, Joe Wilkins, 39, was cycling in Eaton Road, near Appleton, in May last year when he was hit and killed Paul Brown’s car.

After his death, the Eynsham 40-year-old found she was not able to claim a bereavement award because the couple were not married, even though they have two children.

Ms Saunders, an administration assistant, said: “Joe and I had been a couple for more than seven years.

“We lived together and have two young children, yet in the eyes of the law our relationship was not as serious as a couple who had met and married in five minutes.

“Joe and I had discussed marriage but we decided to wait until the girls were a little bit older before we did it so they could enjoy the day.

“In truth, I only wanted to get married so I could take his name.

“I didn’t realise that by not being husband and wife we would suffer if one of us died.

“I have been very fortunate as Joe was an intelligent man who had set things up for the future. However, if he hadn’t, we could have lost our home – everything.”

A surviving spouse can claim up to the value of a £12,980 bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act – but those who are not married cannot touch the fund regardless of how long they have been together or if they have children.

She said: “The fact is, there are a lot of couples who cannot afford to get married or do not see it as a priority, but if the worst happens, they will be totally unprotected and that is not right.

“Society is moving forwards. Civil partnerships are now recognised in the same way married couples are, but it is about time that unmarried couples were also given those rights in the eyes of the law.”

Paul Kitson, personal injury lawyer for Slater & Gordon and Ms Saunders’ solicitor, said: “Nicola’s case is one of a growing number in which unmarried partners are unfairly treated when it comes to compensation following the loss of a loved one.”

Brown, 30, of Oxford Road, Eynsham was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 12 months in September after admitting causing death by careless driving.

Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Sofia Kannas said: “Bereavement damages under the Fatal Accidents Act allow for a fixed award to be made to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner, or, if the deceased was under 18 and had never been married, to the deceased’s parents.”

Comments (5)

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10:09am Wed 11 Dec 13

Diolch says...

The law in this country protects & supports a married couple (& the children from that marriage). Most people know that so this couple should have got married. No one knows what's around the corner.
The law in this country protects & supports a married couple (& the children from that marriage). Most people know that so this couple should have got married. No one knows what's around the corner. Diolch

11:26am Wed 11 Dec 13

Man on the Green says...

It is extraordinary that we haven't found a way of getting the message across that unmarried couples (other than those in recognised civil partnerships) have significantly fewer rights than those who are married or in a recognised partnership. The number of people who still believe their partner's word that being a "common law spouse" (sic) gives them the same rights as if they were married is frightening. But even those who think they have got everything sorted out and have discussed property rights etc. still don't realise the full ramifications.

This is something that should be taught in schools from a young age.

Far too many people (like Nicola sadly) only find out too late what the realities are...
It is extraordinary that we haven't found a way of getting the message across that unmarried couples (other than those in recognised civil partnerships) have significantly fewer rights than those who are married or in a recognised partnership. The number of people who still believe their partner's word that being a "common law spouse" (sic) gives them the same rights as if they were married is frightening. But even those who think they have got everything sorted out and have discussed property rights etc. still don't realise the full ramifications. This is something that should be taught in schools from a young age. Far too many people (like Nicola sadly) only find out too late what the realities are... Man on the Green

9:25pm Wed 11 Dec 13

lil_miss_ME says...

There should be a way that money can be put into trust funds. For his children's future instead if the law States Nicola can't have is as they weren't married.
There should be a way that money can be put into trust funds. For his children's future instead if the law States Nicola can't have is as they weren't married. lil_miss_ME

4:44am Thu 12 Dec 13

East Oxford Web Watcher says...

“In truth, I only wanted to get married so I could take his name.

That quote from Ms Saunders,says a lot really, most of us marry for love, some out of not wanting to be alone, and a few for money and security. But only marrying to change your surname? You can do that online by deed poll for £10
“In truth, I only wanted to get married so I could take his name. That quote from Ms Saunders,says a lot really, most of us marry for love, some out of not wanting to be alone, and a few for money and security. But only marrying to change your surname? You can do that online by deed poll for £10 East Oxford Web Watcher

3:32pm Thu 12 Dec 13

lilysmom says...

Super dumb. You have kids, but don't get married? Having children in 5 minutes is soooo much better than getting married in 5 minutes.
Super dumb. You have kids, but don't get married? Having children in 5 minutes is soooo much better than getting married in 5 minutes. lilysmom

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