Picture this scenario: your relationship is getting serious, but marriage is not really for you. If everything is going well, that’s fine but what happens if unfortunately things don’t work out? If you are just living together that could lead to difficulties and potential unfairness in the event of the death of one partner because you do not automatically acquire the same rights in marriage as when you live together. Despite the popular belief that somehow living together means that you become a common law husband or wife, this is not the case. The reality is that, despite these popular beliefs, couples who live together do not generally have the same legal rights as in marriage, but rather the same as single people.
But now there is another option – if you don’t want to get married but you do want to have the same or similar protection as marriage would give you, then perhaps think about entering into a civil partnership. That’s been possible for mixed-sex couples since December of last year.
First a little history lesson. Originally, following a groundswell in public opinion, the Government introduced civil partnerships in 2005. This enabled same-sex couples to register a civil partnership because gay marriage was not available at the time. The civil partnership gave same-sex couples almost the same legal rights and obligations as for married people. Move forward almost 10 years when in 2014 the first same-sex marriages took place. It was probably thought that following this that civil partnerships would be consigned to history because, given the option, most same-sex couples would choose to marry rather than enter a civil partnership.
However, marriage is not for everyone with its religious connotations or because marriage can be perceived as being too steeped in patriarchal tradition in which women are “given away” by their fathers and promised to “obey” their husbands.
To address this imbalance the Government passed legislation which took effect in December 2019 enabling mixed-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. The civil partnership is a legally recognized relationship between two people and offers many of the same benefits as a conventional marriage in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.
When it comes to ending a civil partnership, the dissolution process is similar to divorce with the same ability to make financial claims against the other party. The Government predicts that as many as 84,000 mixed-sex couples could form civil partnerships in 2020.
So is if for you? You may not be keen on marriage but certainly the protections given from forming a civil partnership should be considered carefully because currently there are very few rights and protection available to couples who are simply living together.
If you would like further advice on any of the issues discussed in this article please contact one of our specialist solicitors.