Today, the last day of the decade, is the day that thousands of mixed-sex couples in England & Wales are expected to enter into civil partnerships.
Up until now, under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, it has only been legal for same-sex couples to become civil partners under UK law. However, a long legal battle by heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan culminated in a ground-breaking Supreme Court decision in 2018 whereby it was held that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in this respect was incompatible with human rights legislation. As a result of this decision, steps have now been taken to extend the law surrounding civil partnerships to include mixed sex couples.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith MP indicated in a House of Commons debate back in October 2019 that the Government would ensure that the necessary regulations are in place in Northern Ireland by 13 January 2020 to allow civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples in Northern Ireland.
He went on to state that “From that date, we expect that couples will be able to give notice of their intent to form a civil same-sex marriage or opposite-sex civil partnership to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland. Given the usual 28-day notice period, the first marriages should be able to take place in the week of Valentine’s day”
Cohabiting couples have been the fastest growing family type over the last decade with over 3.3 million cohabiting mixed sex couples in the UK last year. The government has estimated that approximately 84,000 mixed-sex couples could become civil partners in the next year.
Is there a legal difference between civil partnership and marriage?
In truth, civil partnerships offer almost identical rights to a couple as marriage, including rights to property, inheritance and tax entitlements. Should a civil partnership break down, property can be apportioned, maintenance arranged, and assets divided in the same way as these matters are handled in divorce.
Does simply cohabitating with my partner allow us the same rights as if we were married or in a civil partnership?
Generally speaking, you will have fewer rights if you are living together than if you are married or in a civil partnership.
Many people wrongly believe that with the passage of time, cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights as married couples or those in civil partnerships. There is a misconception that living together for years earns a couple the title of ‘common law husband and wife’ which gives them the same legal rights as married couples or those in civil partnerships, although this is not legally the case. This misconception can unfortunately lead to a cohabiting couple being left in a vulnerable position should the relationship break down or upon the death of one partner.
This new change to the law is important as it will now allow cohabiting couples to enter into a civil partnership, giving them greater rights and protections within their relationships, without having to get married.