The last big family law news was Theresa May’s announcement at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham earlier this month that every couple in England and Wales will be able to choose between a civil partnership and marriage when they formalise their relationship.
Civil partnerships have been available to same-sex couples since 2005 and guarantees similar legal rights as married couples. However, the Supreme Court had recently ruled that restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples is discriminatory and a breach of their human rights. At present, heterosexual couples may only marry whilst same-sex couples can either marry or take up a civil partnership. There are some 3.3 million unmarried couples in England and Wales who, often unbeknown to them, do not have any legal partnership rights. Almost half of these couples have children.
It was suggested by the Supreme Court justices that this inequality of treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex couples could have been eliminated by either abolishing civil partnerships or by extending them to different-sex couples when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came in to force in 2014.
There are a number of reasons why couples may choose not to marry and supporters maintain that civil partnerships which, it is argued, do not carry the patriarchal associations of traditional marriage, will prove more attractive to cohabiting couples. However, there are a number of practical and legal issues to consider, across pension and family law, and the Government will need to consult on these details before implementation.
At the same time, a Private Member’s Bill has been presented to the House of Lords which would also allow siblings, who wish to share a home together, to enter into civil partnership and have all of the rights and obligations associated with this union. It remains to be seen as to how much government support the Bill will receive.
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