Heterosexual couples may be nearer towards being allowed to enter into Civil Partnerships with one another if a private member’s bill, led by Tim Loughton, gets government support when it goes to second reading in February 2018.

At the moment Civil Partnerships are the preserve of same sex couples. When Civil Partnerships were first introduced in 2004 the argument was that it was right to exclude heterosexual couples from Civil Partnership as they had the option of marriage, whereas same sex couples didn’t. That argument was criticised by many as, for a variety of reasons, some heterosexual couples don’t want to marry but do want the commitment and relationship recognition that Civil Partnership brings.

Now marriage has became an option for same sex couples it seems even more of an anomaly that Civil Partnerships remains the preserve of those in same sex relationships as heterosexual couples have less choice about the way in which to recognise their relationship status than same sex couples. In a twist, that many could not have foreseen 20 or 30 years ago, members of the conservative government are signalling support for the private member’s bill to achieve ‘’equality’’.

At the same time that the bill is making its way through parliament a heterosexual couple, Charles Kieden and Rebecca Seinfeld, are pursuing Court proceedings to challenge the current law preventing them from entering into a Civil Partnership.

Critics of the private member’s bill and the Court proceedings assert that giving heterosexual couples the right to enter onto Civil Partnerships will destroy marriage by reducing its popularity. However 20 percent of couples in the UK are cohabiting and although some may go on to marry, others may want to remain as cohabitees. For a small percentage of couples, Civil Partnership status would mean that their relationship with one another could be officially recognised and they would get many of the financial and tax benefits that married couples enjoy.

Why wouldn’t a couple get married, after all they get married in a civil ceremony without any religious observance? As a specialist family finance solicitor I have met many couples where one partner has vowed that he or she will not marry, often not because of an earlier divorce on their own part but because they lived through a parent’s acrimonious divorce and so won’t contemplate marriage even if it would mean tax breaks such as no inheritance tax being payable if, as a married person, they leave their estate to their spouse.

For those with commitment fears if you enter into a Civil Partnership and it breaks down then the Partnership has to be formally dissolved ( in much the same way as divorce proceedings ) before you can remarry or enter into a second Civil Partnership. With the commitment of a Civil Partnership comes potential financial claims on relationship breakdown with the Court having similar powers to the divorce Court to make financial settlements .That is why it is common for couples entering into a Civil Partnership to sign an agreement setting out how their property and money will be split up in the event of a future separation. This agreement is just like a prenup agreement and is taken into account by the Court in any divorce or dissolution proceedings.

Certainly a change in the law would achieve equality and more choice for cohabiting couples, whilst the growth of pre-Civil partnership and prenup agreements provide a degree of financial security for the couple, whatever their relationship status.

For information or advice about your legal rights as a cohabitee or for information on prenup or Civil Partnership agreements please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or contact me by email at robin@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk