Posted by Andrew Nellist, Partner
Why choose a civil partnership over marriage?
Theresa may has announced that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to have a civil partnership rather than get married. This announcement follows the Supreme Court unanimously ruling in favour of a heterosexual couple in June of this year who launched their own legal bid to be allowed to have a civil partnership.
Vandana Chitroda, a partner in our Family team, said: “This will be welcome news for the many hundreds of thousands of couples across the country who are committed to their relationships for life but do not wish to marry – and is long overdue. It’s outrageous that it’s taken so long for the law to catch up with the needs of modern families who are often left in dire straits if their relationships break down and they have no legal rights to fall back on. I have lost count of the number of times over the years that I have advised clients who have been unable to obtain a share from the family home, savings, pensions and other assets they may have helped to build and which they would have been entitled to had they been married. At last unmarried heterosexual couples’ right to choose is being respected and we can look forward to a fairer system where they can enjoy the same legal rights as married couples but without the conventions.”
Why would you prefer a civil partnership over marriage?
A couple’s reasons for preferring a civil partnership over marriage may be varied. For most it may be because of the religious element to the constitution of a marriage even though marriages need not now be a religious ceremony.
The couple in this case are reported as saying that they do intend to marry at some future date but they saw the benefits of first entering into a civil partnership, which are the same as entering into a marriage. There are many benefits some of which are listed below:
1. A civil partner does not have automatic parental rights over their partner’s children but has a general duty to safeguard the health and welfare of children under 16 who live in the household. If a child is conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009, a civil partner can be the second legal parent and have automatic parental responsibilities and rights towards the child. Civil partners can adopt a child together.
2. Civil partners are treated as any other couple who are living together when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits and tax credits. Your resources and requirements are jointly assessed. A surviving civil partner can claim bereavement benefits, or in some cases, a retirement pension based on a partner’s national insurance contributions.
3. It is against the law for an occupational pension scheme not to offer the same rights to a civil partner as a married partner. You may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your civil partner’s national insurance contributions. A civil partner is entitled to a share of an ex-partner’s pension if the relationship is formally ended, for example by dissolution. If your civil partner dies, you may also be entitled to a share of an occupational or private pension.
4. Civil partners have an equal duty to maintain each other.
5. A civil partner is always acceptable as next of kin.
6. A couple can separate informally but will need to go to court to dissolve the civil partnership.
7. Both civil partners have a right to remain in the home unless a court has ordered otherwise.
8. If your civil partner dies without leaving a Will, you will get the home, contents, and part of the remaining estate. If your civil partner does leave a Will which leaves little or nothing to you, you can claim legal rights to part of the estate.
So what happens next?
The next step will be for the Government to amend legislation to reflect this announcement. However the law still does nothing to protect those couples choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage or a civil partnership. Scotland has legislated to introduce rights for cohabitants and we believe it’s high time that the Government catches up with social changes and does so in England and Wales.
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