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COHABITATION: Universal access to Civil Partnership

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At the start of this year I wrote about the common-law marriage myth, which continues to endure so pervasively within the national consciousness, and how this widely assumed fiction misleads many cohabiting couples as to their legal rights  (click here for the full article: https://www.hughes-paddison.co.uk/site/blog/matrimonial_index/cohabitation-separating-fact-from-fiction). With the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the right to form a civil partnership will be extended to mixed-sex couples, it is an apt time to reflect on the legal position of cohabiting couples and whether or not civil partnership is the answer many have been waiting for. 

R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for International Development 2018

The Government’s decision to make access to the union of civil partnership universal, follows a case before the Supreme Court this summer where the Court ruled that the cohabiting couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, and all heterosexual couples like them, should be able to enter into a civil partnership.

Steinfeld and Keidan were set against a marital union due to the institutions patriarchal associations and felt they were being unfairly denied the rights and protections afforded to married couples, and same-sex couples whom already benefit from access to civil partnership.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous judgment declaring that the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, preventing opposite-sex couples from entering into a civil partnership, to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Extension of Civil Partnership to Straight Couples

Prime Minister Theresa May ended months of uncertainty, about how the Government would rectify the apparent inequality, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Steinfeld and Keidan, by announcing in October that new legislation would allow opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnership. She stated that “this change in the law helps to protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship, but don’t necessarily want to get married.”

Freedom vs. Protection

As with many aspects of our lives, the choice that cohabitants face is one between freedom and protection. Cohabitants unbound by marriage or civil partnership enjoy autonomy in how they choose to organise their affairs but lack the protections afforded to couples who enter into those state regulated unions. Cohabitants must decide if independence is more of a benefit than a burden in this regard, but should have no illusions about the myth of common law marriage which is simply nothing more than that. (Click here for more detail on this issue: https://www.hughes-paddison.co.uk/site/blog/matrimonial_index/cohabitation-separating-fact-from-fiction)

If you require assistance in relation to legal rights in your own relationship or simply wish to learn more about your circumstances, please feel free to contact a member of our Family Law Department on 01242 574244 and we will be happy to meet you and discuss your situation.

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