Civil partnerships: an alternative to marriage for all couples

Insights / / Bristol

It is estimated that around two thirds of cohabiting couples incorrectly believe they have the same rights as married couples or couples in a civil partnership. New legislation in this area provides all couples with an alternative to marriage to ensure they are granted with stability and legal protection.

On 26 May 2019, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 came into force (amending the Civil Partnership Act 2004); which allows opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership in England and Wales. From 31 December 2019, opposite-sex couples will be able to register for civil partnerships in England and Wales, which is a huge step forward.

Civil Partnerships were first introduced in 2004, to give same-sex couples the ability to commit to each other and provide the same legal and financial protection they would achieve through marriage. This law developed further in 2013, when the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Since then, same-sex couples have been able to choose between entering into a marriage or a civil partnership, but opposite-sex couples have not had the same choice.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of heterosexual civil partnerships was discriminatory, and that the Civil Partnership Act was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which has sparked a change in the law.

It is surprising how many people still believe in the notion of ‘common law marriage’, and how they consider that living together with a partner over a long period of time will automatically afford them the same rights as a married couple. Having the opportunity to enter into a civil partnership offers more couples with legal protection without being burdened by old-fashioned traditions. Civil partnerships attract a number of financial benefits and protections relating to inheritance tax exemptions, income tax allowances, and inheritance prospects.

The change of the law in this area creates an opportunity for all couples to have the right to marry or enter into a civil partnership, which demonstrates how far the legal system has evolved in recent times in respect of adapting to meet the changing requirements of society. If you would like to discuss the legal implications of entering into a marriage or civil partnership please contact our Family Associate Rebecca Aston-Jones who will be delighted to talk you through your options.

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