Equality in Marriage & Civil Partnership now law in Northern Ireland.

gay cake

In an historic day in Northern Ireland, same sex couples are now legally able to give notice of their intent to marry to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland.  Allowing for a minimum notice period of 28 days, this means that Northern Ireland will see its first same sex marriages from February 2020.
Today’s change in legislation further allows for heterosexual couples to be able to enter into civil partnerships with one another rather than marry.

Up until recently, whilst same-sex couples were able enter into a Civil Partnership, they were not legally permitted to marry.  In the same token, heterosexual couples were able to marry but were not permitted to enter into a civil partnership.

This progressive change in our law affords all couples in Northern Ireland the option to either enter into a civil partnserhip with one another or to get married.

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.

For further information on civil partnerships, cohabitation or any other aspect of family law, please feel free to contact us here or via the comment box below.

End of decade marks beginning of Civil Partnerships for Mixed Sex Couples

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.

For further information on civil partnerships, please  feel free to contact us hereor via the comment box below.

LIFE BITE: Cohabiting partners in NI are not entitled to spousal bereavement benefits

apple-150579_1280The NI Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling made by the High Court that the Department for Social Development (DSD) had acted unlawfully when it refused to pay bereavement benefits to a mother on the ground that she was not married to her partner at the date of his death.  

Siobhan McLaughlin lived with her partner John Adams for over 23 years until his death on 28th January 2014. Ms McLaughlin and Mr Adams were unmarried and had four children together who were aged 19, 17, 13 and 11 years at the date of his death.

Upon her partner’s death, Ms McLaughlin claimed Bereavement Payment and Widowed Parent’s Allowance, but was refused both benefits by the DSD because she was neither married to nor a civil partner of Mr Adams at the date of his death.

Ms McLaughlin issued Judicial Review proceedings on the grounds that the DSD unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of marital status and this was contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998. She also claimed that the DSD decision had failed to have regard for her private or family life.

The High Court in its judgment ruled that the refusal to pay Ms McLaughlin Widowed Parent’s Allowance was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights as the decision discriminated against her on the grounds of marital status. The Judge ruled that refusal of the Widowed Parent’s Allowance was not justified because the responsibilities for the children are the same irrespective of marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation.

The DSD appealed this decision to the NI Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal then considered extensive domestic and European case-law and decided that the State had “adopted a position on marital status and bereavement benefits that the courts have endorsed and Parliament has reaffirmed” and it was “not for the courts to determine the policy in this area”.

The Court of Appeal was satisfied that the relationship of an unmarried cohabitee was not equivalent with that of a spouse or civil partner in the context of a Widowed Parent’s Allowance and that there was no violation of Human Rights.   Accordingly, the Court of Appeal allowed the DSD’s appeal, and Ms McLaughlin’s application for Judicial Review was dismissed.

The case is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court by Ms McLaughlin with a hearing date scheduled for April 2018.

For more information on some of the legal differences between being married/in a civil partnership and cohabiting, check out our article ‘Cohabiting With Your Partner
Feel free to contact us by email if you have any questions regarding cohabitation rights.

Cohabiting With Your Partner

cohabiting.jpegIn recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to choose to live together rather than to get married or enter a civil partnership.

Living with a partner to whom you are not married or in a civil partnership with is often termed as ‘cohabitation’. 

In the UK, the cohabiting couple family continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK, reaching 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in 2018. Cohabiting couple families include both opposite sex and same sex cohabiting couples.
With cohabitation on the increase, it is important to be aware of all of the legal differences there are between being married/in a civil partnership and living together.

Does cohabitation allow me the same rights as marriage/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.  There is an illusion that living together for a number of years earns a couple the titles 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.

Cohabitation and Property

Living with someone will not automatically give you rights to the home you share with them.

For example, if you cohabit with your partner in a property which is in their sole name and your relationship breaks down, the Court will have no power to alter the property rights, regardless of whether you and your partner have children together or have both been contributing to the mortgage and other outgoings.  It may be that a proprietary interest can be argued in your favour; however the rights and remedies that you have are drastically reduced in comparison to those available to persons who are married or in a civil partnership.

Similarly, if you and your partner cohabit in a property that is owned jointly and the relationship later breaks down, the general principle is ‘each keeps their own’. You will both be equally liable for any mortgage debt, regardless of whether you have had to leave the home or not.

If you and your partner are living together in a rented property, only the person named in the tenancy agreement generally has the right to live there and this person solely holds the responsibility for paying the rent. If you are not named on the tenancy agreement, the named tenant can ask you to move out at any time (after giving reasonable notice) and you have no automatic right to stay if the named tenant decides to leave.

Cohabitation and Inheritance

It is also worth noting that if your partner dies, cohabiting does not automatically entitle you to inherit in the absence of a Will, regardless of how many years you have been living together.   If your partner has made a Will and named you as a beneficiary, any assets you receive may be subject to inheritance tax as there is no exemption for unmarried couples.

If your partner has not made a Will or has not named you in their Will, as an unmarried partner you may be able to make a financial claim on their Estate. However, making such a claim can be complex and can involve costly legal proceedings.

I am living with my partner but we are not married. How can I best protect my interests?

There are safeguards that can be put in place for cohabiting couples.  You can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement which details what you agree should happen in the event of any future separation.  Such an agreement will be legally binding if made under the right conditions.   Both you and your partner making Wills will also protect your interests in any inheritance you may have in the future.

It is therefore wise to seek professional legal advice whether you are entering into a cohabitation relationship or indeed if the relationship has ended and there are issues to be resolved.

If you would like any further information on cohabitation rights, please contact us here of leave your comments below.