The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has announced that legislation will be introduced to enable heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships. This means that will have the same right to enter into a civil partnership as same sex couples. Theresa May’s comments follow a campaign and court case to end discrimination following the implementation of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act. The 2004 Act limited civil partnerships to same sex couples. At the time, the rationale for the restriction to single sex couples was that they couldn’t legally get married and so a new style of legal relationship recognition limited to same sex partners was appropriate.

The heterosexual civil partnership campaign

Campaigners argued that restricting civil partnerships to single sex couples was discriminatory towards heterosexual couples, especially after the law was changed to allow same sex marriage. After this year’s court ruling that concluded that the current civil partnership law does discriminate, change was inevitable. The only question was whether civil partnerships would be scrapped for all couples or extended to heterosexual couples.

Traditionalists may be appalled by Theresa May’s announcement as they believe that extending the option of civil partnerships to all couples may further reduce the attraction of getting married. Campaigners for cohabitation rights for unmarried couples (either same sex or opposite sex) may be equally unhappy by the news as some will argue that there will be less need to introduce changes to family law to protect unmarried couples if they have the option of entering into a civil partnership to give them legal rights.

Civil partnership rights for homosexual and heterosexual couples

If a couple decide to enter into a civil partnership then it is akin to getting married but without the label of ‘’marriage’’. For some, marriage isn’t an option; either on religious or moral grounds or simply because they can’t contemplate getting married after observing parental divorce.

If you enter into a civil partnership you and your partner have far greater legal rights than if you had stayed as a cohabiting couple. For some people, entering into a civil partnership may mean that they would have to share the equity in a family home owned in their sole name or their pension if they split up from their civil partner. However, if they hadn’t entered into a civil partnership few or no financial claims could have been made against them.

For others, civil partnership could allow them to make a financial claim against their civil partner’s house, pension and business assets as well as a claim for maintenance. It is important that all couples realise that civil partnership isn’t just a new style of relationship label for cohabitating couples but a relationship status that gives extensive legal rights.

Civil partnership agreements

If you enter into a civil partnership and it doesn’t work out, one of you can start court proceedings to dissolve the civil partnership. Those court proceedings are similar to divorce proceedings. Either of you can bring a financial claim for a share of property, pensions, business assets or maintenance as the court has the power to make financial orders.

If you are thinking of entering into a civil partnership but the prospect of financial disagreement upon separation doesn’t appeal to you, then you have the option of entering into a civil partnership agreement. This type of agreement is just like a prenuptial agreement made in contemplation of marriage. The agreement is designed to govern how finances will be sorted out in the event of a separation.  

Cohabitation rights

For those who don’t want the relationship label of marriage or civil partnership but equally want to make sure that their partner is  provided for financially if they split up or pass away, there are legal options available. These include making a cohabitation agreement or Will. Without these documents, an unmarried partner can have very limited rights, depending on individual family and property circumstances.

Relationship agreements

Whatever the status of your relationship and its legal label, it is sensible to get legal advice on where you stand financially and, in most cases, to sort out a relationship agreement. That will either be a cohabitation agreement, a civil partnership agreement or a prenuptial agreement.   

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