Never mind the twaddle, be clear on your rights before deciding whether marriage or civil partnership is right for you
In my view, a recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan is a decision that serves only to confuse the public. At the end of June, the court ruled unanimously that Steinfeld and Keidan had been discriminated against because only same sex couples could enter into a civil partnership. While I am not trying to dissuade anyone from this argument, I feel the decision is misleading and has fuelled media coverage endorsing the myths surrounding common law and civil partnerships.
For me, the decision would have earned the epithet of ‘landmark’ if it had legally recognised the thousands of cohabiting relationships, both between heterosexual and same sex couples, for which no legal obligations currently exist.
The law concerning common law relationships has been misunderstood for decades. If only I were given a pound every time someone came to me assuming they have rights simply because they have lived together for some arbitrary period of time. The facts, however, are clear: if you are in a relationship recognised by statute, a full range of financial obligations and responsibilities exist. If you are not in a relationship recognised by statute, there are no financial obligations or responsibilities on the breakdown of your relationship – on the death of your partner you will have to prove a dependency on the deceased to succeed in a claim against their estate.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to give same sex couples the ability to share the same financial obligations and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. At the time, society was not quite ready for same sex marriage – today, in 2018, it is now open to all.
Unfortunately the language used in the title of the 2004 Act creates the wrong impression straight away. It implies civil partnership is an alternative to marriage, based on different principles and essentially different from marriage. It is not. The Civil Partnership Act enabled same sex couples to enter into a relationship whereby financial obligations and responsibilities exist, and the Act mirrors the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in determining the couple’s responsibilities on the breakdown of their relationship. I am often surprised to learn from my civil partnership clients that they themselves are surprised the principles of equal sharing and providing financial support to their ex-partner apply to them – so many people seem not really to understand what it is they are getting into.
So Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan were finding the institution of marriage intolerable and wanted the option of civil partnership? Great, but I am not sure they understand that, as a question of law, it does not matter what you call it – when it goes wrong, the principles are exactly the same.
There have been loud calls for the law to be changed in order to make provision for cohabiting couples, by far the fastest-growing type of relationship in the UK. I have mixed views about that, but that is another topic – my concern here is that the debate gets lost in the furore of heterosexual couples being able to be civil partners.
Summing up quite simply – if you are married, on divorce there is a presumption of at least equal sharing of property and pensions and there may be an obligation to provide spousal maintenance. If you are in a civil partnership, on dissolution of the partnership there is a presumption of at least equal sharing of property and pensions and there may be an obligation to provide spousal maintenance. If you are neither married nor in a civil partnership, on the breakdown of your relationship there are no financial obligations even in respect of property you have lived in but do not own. Do not be misled by this landmark ruling, it is all twaddle!
Family Law, General, George Ide, News