5th December 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the first Civil Partnerships, which enabled same sex couples to gain formal recognition for their relationships. Head of Family and Coodes Partner Elise Alma asks whether the time has come to give marriage an overhaul.
“The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed legal recognition of long standing relationships in a manner almost identical to marriage. Since then, attitudes have moved on, heralding the introduction of marriages for same sex couples in 2014. In reality, there is very little difference between the two as far as the law is concerned.
“As a family lawyer I see increasing numbers of people wanting advice on pre nups and living together agreements at the start of their relationships so they can plan for their futures. Sadly however, the bulk of my work involves the breakdown of relationships and whether those relationships are civil partnerships or marriages the legal remedies available are, for the most part, the same.
“Civil partnerships and subsequently gay marriage have addressed discrimination against same sex couples but have at the same time, created discrimination for heterosexual couples who have only one way to provide legal recognition for their relationships. With the dramatic decline of interest in civil partnerships, which I believe is largely because they do more or less the same thing as marriage, is this an opportunity to reinvent civil partnerships as something available for all?
“Despite the best efforts of family lawyers to dispel the myth of ‘common law marriage’, many people find than on the breakdown of a long standing relationship, whether it be heterosexual or gay, one party is entitled to absolutely nothing and stands to lose their home with no provision for a share of income or pension or any savings or investments built up over those years.
“Many people have ideological objections to the concept of marriage itself but would welcome an alternative means of formalising their relationship and providing each other with basic legal rights: less extensive than those created by marriage, but a safety net in the event that things go wrong.”