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Supreme Court ruling paves the way for change on civil partnership

27/06/2018

Family lawyers at FBC Manby Bowdler have welcomed news that opposite sex couples are to be allowed to enter into a civil partnership.

On June 27, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, from London who had been campaigning for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage.

Judges said the Civil Partnership Act 2004 - which had previously only applied to same-sex couples - was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Emma Smith, a senior solicitor in our family law team, reflects on the background and the implications of the case:

The law around civil partnership and marriage has been inconsistent for a while. Initially civil partnerships were introduced so that same sex couples had a way to commit to one another when they didn’t have the option to get married.

In 2014, the government passed legislation that permitted same sex marriage. Since then same sex couples have been able to choose between civil partnership and marriage whereas opposite sex couples only have one choice. This has created an unintentional imbalance in the law that had not been addressed to date.

So, why is this an important case? Marriage and civil partnership confer lots of legal rights upon spouses or civil partners. Importantly, this includes rights to inherit in the event that one of the couple dies without a will and rights to financial provision on separation by divorce or dissolution.

The Supreme Court’s judgment confirms that not allowing opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships is incompatible with the protection against discrimination that exists in human rights law. It is now up to the government to come up with a solution..

This will eventually provide opposite sex couples who, for whatever reason, don’t want to marry with more ways to access those rights and protections.

Many more couples choose to cohabit long term without marrying these days. There’s no such thing as common law marriage and cohabiting couples don’t have any of the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners.

Whilst this latest decision has tidied up the existing law regarding civil partnership, it would be good if the Government now looked at ways to improve the law for cohabiting couples.

To discuss family law issues, please contact Emma Smith on 01952 208408 or e.smith@fbcmb.co.uk.

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