The Prime Minister has announced at the Conservative Party 2018 conference that heterosexual couples in England & Wales will be able to choose to have a civil partnership rather than getting married.
This follows the Supreme Court’s decision in June where it ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld, aged 37 and Charles Keidan, aged 41 who wanted to be in a civil partnership and said that the current law around civil partnerships is unlawful and in breach of human rights law.
Scott Halliday, a modern families specialist at national law firm Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, said: “We are delighted with the news that civil partnerships are to be formally extended to heterosexual couples.
“The Supreme Court acknowledged that the Civil Partnership Act needs to be reformed as the current law is in contravention of Article 14 of the European Convention, discrimination, when read in conjunction with the right to privacy and a family life, Article 8. The Supreme Court was clear that the Government could not acknowledge a human rights breach, created by government itself, then ask for a further period to review the situation before deciding what, if anything, needed to be done."
The Prime Minister’s announcement is a clear "commitment to the future rather than relegating family law to the past. It is also an indication from the government that relationship status, beyond typical marriage, should be recognised in law," Mr Halliday continued.
Conrad Adam, partner at Wedlake Bell, said: "Ever since the law was changed to allow same sex marriages to take place from March 2014 it was only a matter of time before civil partnerships were either extended to include heterosexual couples or abolished completely. The law of unintended consequences meant that from 2014 and for the first time same sex couples had more options than heterosexual couples – and that was inherently discriminatory.
“It will be interesting to see what proportion of heterosexual couples adopt this form of union as opposed to marriage, and their reasons for doing so."
Similarly, Neil Russell, partner in the family team at law firm Seddons, said: “About time that family law started catching up with social views that marriage is not the only label for a family unit. This news follows much campaigning, and a Supreme Court decision. According to the ONS in 2017 , the second largest family type was the ‘cohabiting couple family’, at 3.3 million families, perhaps more will be in a civil partnership going forward, as many of those cohabiting have simply not wanted to get married.
“A civil partnership will provide greater financial security on death and should the relationship breakdown; at present there is no common law spouse. Right now you either married or you are not. Finally an alternative will be available.”
Mark Harrop, senior associate in the family team at Collyer Bristow, said that this is a "victory for equality", but may actually "present a huge own goal for those who want better rights for cohabiting couples. Civil partnerships are marriages in all but name – there is no reason to think that many people will opt for them who would not otherwise have got married."
Additionally, Joanna Pratt, partner/head of family at law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore concluded: “Family lawyers are likely to be pleasantly surprised at the speed with which the Government has acted on the Supreme Court judgment in the Steinfeld and Keiden case in June 2018.
"The proposed change to the law would provide an alternative to heterosexual couples who wish to secure legal status for their relationship but who, for personal reasons, wish to avoid the more traditional institution of marriage. The next stage will be for a Bill to be drafted and put forward to, and hopefully approved, by Parliament. There is therefore no immediate change in the law, or options available to heterosexual couples.”
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