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The 31st December 2019 marked the eagerly awaited first day of registration of heterosexual couples entering into civil partnerships. This official day follows the Civil Partnership (Opposite-Sex Couples) Regulations 2019 being approved by the Lords.
In contrast, the Civil Partnership Act was passed for same sex couples in 2004. And in 2014 the first marriages of same sex couples took place following the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act the preceding year. So, whilst same sex couples have had the choice of either a civil partnership or marriage since 2014, heterosexual couples have not. Therefore, those that have not wished to marry have consequently been at a disadvantage.
The Equal Civil Partnership campaign was subsequently launched, with a view to remedying the imbalance.
Unmarried cohabiting couples are thought to be the fastest growing family unit in the UK, making up one in four families. However, a large proportion of adults mistakenly believe that by co-habiting “common law” rights can be acquired. This is simply not true. Accordingly, labouring under such a misapprehension can cause such couples to suffer significant detriment should a relationship end or on the death of a party.
In 2016 the Isle of Man took the step of sanctioning heterosexual civil partnerships. Nonetheless these civil partnerships were not valid outside of the Isle of Man. Finally, in June 2019, five Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that the current law was incompatible with human rights legislation. This ruling followed the campaign championed by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfield.
As a result, from 31 December 2019 opposite sex couples have been entitled to register civil partnerships in the UK. Also, those civil partnerships granted elsewhere, such as the Isle of Man, are recognised as of 2 December 2019. This judgement recognises the importance of acknowledging different types of families. It is to assist in financially protecting both parties and any dependent children upon relationship breakdown or death.
Civil partnerships offer many of the same benefits as marriage, including the same inheritance rights. When married couples or civil partners separate, the law permits courts to divide property and finances in a fair manner.
It remains the case however that couples who are not married or civil partners have no basic legal protections in place. This is regardless of how long they have been together or whether they have children. Unfortunately, this can often disadvantage women and children disproportionately.
The above sea-change is welcome and means that those opposite sex couples choosing not to marry can now enter a civil partnership. However, more is needed to be done to ensure that the “common law marriage myth” is dispelled.
It is open to cohabitees to enter into cohabitation agreements and / or declarations of trust to regulate how property is held. Additionally, wills can be made to reduce the risk of unfairness and hardship for those left bereft.
For further information or advice please call us on 0800 999 4437 or email email@example.com
Family Solicitor at our Colemans office in Haywards Heath, Sussex