Civil partnerships extended to mixed sex couples

  • Image of Trainee Solicitor Chloé Holden
Chloé Holden, Cozens-Hardy LLP

Prime Minister Teresa May has recently announced that, as of April next year, mixed sex couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to enter into a civil partnership rather than getting married. The change stems from the Supreme Court ruling of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan three months ago.

Civil partnerships were initially created in 2004 to give same-sex couples (who at the time could not marry) similar legal and financial protection as that offered by marriage. Same-sex marriage has since then been legalised - by virtue of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 - allowing same-sex couples to decide between marriage or entering into a civil partnership.

Many unmarried couples in long standing relationships in England and Wales share the view that they do not wish to marry, due to historical and religious connotations. Often these same individuals believe that, over time, they will acquire similar rights and protections to married couples. Unfortunately there is simply no such thing as ‘common law marriage’; under current law, it is possible to live with someone for decades, and have children together, but to have no financial claim if the relationship breaks down. 

This change in the law will address the imbalance that allows same-sex couples to choose between marriage and entering into a civil partnership. The benefits attached to entering into a civil partnership provide greater protection to mixed-sex couples and their families who want to formalise their relationship but do not want to get married. Similarly to marriage, a civil partnership will attract many tax exemptions including Inheritance Tax reliefs. On death, the surviving partner will have the automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate. In effect this may mean that the surviving partner does not have to worry about the risk of not being able to afford to stay living in the family home. Alternatively, if the relationship breaks downs, the couple may have a guaranteed right to ownership of each other’s property.

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