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Opposite-sex couples can now have a civil partnership

In a move which has been heralded as a victory for equality, the right to enter into a civil partnership is to be extended to heterosexual couples.

Since March 2014, opposite-sex couples have been denied the choice open to same-sex couples of picking either a civil partnership, which brings the same legal protection as marriage, or tying the knot.

Announcing the news, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship, but don’t necessarily want to get married.

“As Home Secretary, I was proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage. Now, by extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same chances in life.”

Elation

The development has been met with ‘elation’ by Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, from London.

They took their battle to be allowed a civil partnership, which brings entitlement to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage, to the Supreme Court earlier this year.

The couple, who never wanted to marry, felt a civil partnership fitted their beliefs and ideologies far better and argued that being excluded from having a civil partnership was discriminatory.

The Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only applies to same-sex couples – was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result the government looked again at this area of the law.

Swift change

The government has now pledged to introduce the change as soon as possible.

Equalities Minster Penny Mordaunt said: “This is an important step forward for equality.

“There are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to marry. By giving couples this option we hope to give them and their families more certainty and security.

“I pay tribute to all who have campaigned for this change and will introduce the change as swiftly as possible.”

Common law misconception

Cohabiting, opposite-sex couples often mistakenly think they have the same legal protection and rights as married couples but this is far from the case:

  • They have no automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate when they die;
  • They could be liable for inheritance tax and there is no automatic entitlement to shared property, even if they have been paying the mortgage;
  • They may not be entitled to their partner’s occupational pension if they die;
  • They are not entitled to the same tax reliefs and exemptions as spouses and civil partners.

Law Society President Christina Blacklaws said: “The law needs to catch up with, and reflect the multiple ways in which people choose to live their lives today. We are absolutely in favour of a review of all areas of the law affecting civil and religious contracts/marriages/partnerships.”

For more information and advice on this area of the law please contact our Family Law and Divorce team or our Cohabitation team.

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