Civil partnerships could be ideal for unmarried heterosexual couples | Family Law

Mixed-sex couples who consider themselves cohabiting partners can now consider entering official unions to protect their legal rights.

Lorna Tipple, Associate Director in the Family Law department at Thursfields, was commenting after the first of what are expected to be tens of thousands of civil partnerships taking place for heterosexual couples in the next 12 months.

Previously, the law only allowed same-sex couples to be civil partners, but Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won a legal battle for the right to a heterosexual civil partnership instead of a marriage at the Supreme Court in 2018. The rules were then changed to make them available to everyone in England and Wales, and Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan finally celebrated their civil partnership in west London on New Year’s Eve.

Lorna Tipple said “Civil partnerships offer almost identical rights as marriage, including property, inheritance and tax entitlements. They were originally introduced for same-sex couples in 2005, but Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan decided they wanted one because they held a conscientious objection to marriage and what they saw as its patriarchal associations.

This led to a lengthy legal battle and the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the law was discriminatory and breached their right to a family and private life. This means the government changed the law, opening the civil partnership option to the UK’s 3.3 million co-habiting heterosexual couples.”

Lorna added: “This is important because many mixed-sex couples believe they are already protected by so-called common law marriages, but these are a myth and simply do not exist in law. As a result, they do not enjoy the same property, inheritance and tax entitlements as married couples and civil partners and, importantly, the same legal remedies and protection on a breakdown of a relationship.

When dealing with a division of finances on a divorce, many factors come into play, the most important of which is needs. Property can be transferred, sold, pensions shared and maintenance ordered among other things. If a couple register as civil partners, they will have the same recourse to deal with financial matters as if they were a married couple divorcing. This is markedly different to couples who simply cohabit, who do not have these remedies available, no matter how long a relationship may have been.

Now that we have this legal change, mixed sex couples can become civil partners, giving them greater rights and protections within their relationships and recourse upon any future breakdown of that relationship, without having to get married. A pre-registration agreement should be entered into, detailing how assets will be shared were the relationship to breakdown.”

Similar legal changes will also soon take place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the government estimates as many as 84,000 mixed sex couples could become civil partners across the UK in 2020.

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