This month, legislation came into force which allows heterosexual (‘straight’) couples to enter into a civil partnership rather than marriage if they so wish. Until now, civil partnership has only been open to same sex couples. As a result of a landmark case, this injustice was deemed by the Supreme Court last year to be discriminatory and it was always hoped that this ruling from the highest Court in England and Wales would persuade the Government to amend the Civil Partnerships Act (2004) to open it up to heterosexual couples. This has now happened.
What is the difference between living together (cohabiting), civil partnership and marriage? In the simplest of terms, the last two provide a legal formality around a relationship; a civil partnership is a legal contract entered into by both parties which carries all of the same benefits and obligations as marriage without the religious ceremony element. Consequently, it is being viewed by some as a more ‘modern’, ‘business-like’ recognition of a relationship whilst marriage is deemed more traditional, steeped in culture and religion. From a legal perspective, there is no obvious difference between the two but there are significant benefits and obligations to having your relationship status legally recognised.
On the other hand, cohabitation has been the only alternative for heterosexual couples who have not necessarily wanted a religious endorsement of their relationship through marriage. The downside of course is that cohabiting couples do not necessarily benefit from the advantages of a legally recognised relationship whether this is during the happy times of living together, if they separate or indeed when one partner dies. Some couples therefore enter into cohabitation agreements which is a contract drafted by solicitors that can regulate what should happen if they separate. However, this does not protect them if one partner dies unexpectedly.
What are the issues that may drive couples to think about moving from cohabitation to civil partnership? A recent article in Wigan Today http://www.wigantoday.net/news/people/couple-could-have-first-heterosexual-civil-partnership-in-wigan-1-9761336) reported that a heterosexual couple from Wigan might be the first in the Borough to take advantage of the new civil partnership legislation. Having been together for many years, they have amassed significant joint assets and want to make sure that each is taken care of if their relationship is brought to an end one way or another. For many, what happens to money, possessions and pensions following the death of one cohabiting partner is a real concern as the surviving cohabitee won’t necessarily ‘be the beneficiary of the estate’ unlike if they were married. Other issues which can be affected by the status of your relationship include: entitlement to occupy rented housing, caring for children, tax allowances and welfare benefits.
If you are thinking about entering into a civil partnership and need advice on any aspect including procedure, benefits and obligations, please contact us.
We offer 30 minutes free initial advice appointments and also offer payment plans.
Please do not hesitate to contact our family solicitors Gillian Lavelle or Kim Busby if you wish to discuss any of the above further.
www.wigansolicitors.com Tel: 01942 206060 Address: 26 Bridgeman Terrace, Wigan WN1 1TD Twitter: @MBHSolicitors