The New Year marks a significant change in the law governing civil partnerships. Last week, opposite sex couples in England and Wales were able to enter into civil partnerships for the first time whereas previously only couples of the same sex could enter into a civil partnership.
As a result of the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013 and the government’s decision (a) not to repeal the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA) and (b) not to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, same-sex couples were able to choose to formalise their relationship by either getting married or entering into a civil partnership. This choice was not available to opposite sex couples, for whom marriage was the only option. Among those couples were Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan, who wanted to formalise their relationship but viewed marriage as a patriarchal and outdated institution. The couple claimed that the law was discriminatory and they sought a judicial review of the government’s decision not to make changes to the CPA to allow opposite sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. After unsuccessful bids in the High Court and Court of Appeal, in June 2018 they were ultimately successful in their claim when the Supreme Court agreed with them and declared that sections of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Rebecca and Charles were among the first opposite sex couples to celebrate their civil partnership on 31 December 2019. The government estimates that there are approximately 3.3 million co-habiting opposite sex couples in the UK, of which 84,000 could form civil partnerships this year.
Entering into a civil partnership will grant couples similar (but not identical) rights to married couples, such as those relating to property, inheritance and tax entitlements. Many cohabiting couples are unaware that there is no such thing as a “common law marriage” and as such they do not enjoy the same property, inheritance and tax entitlements as married couples and civil partners. The prevalence of the “common law marriage” myth is of great concern to us family law specialists, and certainly my anecdotal experience is that many people realise too late, in the midst of separation, that they do not have the entitlements that they believed they had by virtue of cohabitation alone.
Rayden Solicitors are family law specialists who can assist in relation to all aspects of family law, including issues affecting both opposite and same sex couples. If you require legal advice about any of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us.