Prime Minister Theresa May has today announced that the law will be changed to give heterosexual couples the right to a civil partnership. Sarah Evans, Family lawyer at Coodes Solicitors comments.
The Prime Minister has announced a change in the law that will give all couples the option of having a civil partnership instead of getting married. This comes soon after the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Hetrosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, brought the case as they did not feel marriage was an option for them as it had “treated women as property for centuries.”
What is a civil partnership?
Like marriage, civil partnerships give a relationship legal status. That includes legal and financial protection in the event of a relationship ending or the death of a spouse or partner, as well as inheritance and property rights. From a legal perspective there is little difference between the two and dissolving a civil partnership involves the same legal process as a divorce. The only difference is that a civil partnership cannot be dissolved due to adultery, unlike a divorce.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 addressed discrimination by offering same sex couples access to the same legislation as married couples. Civil partnerships were offered for the first time in the UK in 2015 to enable same sex couples to formalise their relationships. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 followed, allowing same sex couples to marry. Since then there have been calls for heterosexual couples also to have the choice between a marriage and civil partnership.
The myth of common law marriage
The change in the law is designed to provide greater security for unmarried couples and their children. There are an estimated three million cohabiting couples in the UK and statistics suggest that nearly half of Britons believe that unmarried couples possess the same rights as married couples. This is a myth and there is no legislation to protect people who live together without being married or in a civil partnership. A cohabitee, for example, has no automatic rights to his or her partner’s estate after their death, for example.
What happens next?
Although the Government has today promised a change in the law, they have not announced a date. The Government has acknowledged that there are legal issues to consider and technical details to address before the change can take place. However, they have promised to bring about the change as quickly as possible.