As of March 26th 2019 we find ourselves on the cusp of new legal territory in the world of Family Law, although what substantive difference it will make on a practical level is dubious.
On 26th March 2019 the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 received Royal Assent. This Act is not yet in force but is due to be on 26th May 2019, with all relevant regulations to be in place by not later than 31st December 2019.
This Act will extend the right to form a Civil Partnership to heterosexual couples. There has not been a massive amount of demand for heterosexual Civil Partnerships but those who have demanded it have done so loudly, and the government have listened.
But what are the benefits?
Civil Partnership was introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to enable same sex couples to have their committed relationships recognised at law in the same way as opposite sex married couples. As a result of this, the tax benefits upon death and financial remedies available upon the dissolution of a relationship were also extended to same sex couples. At law, the benefits for both spouses and civil partners became equal at that point. The only difference was that Civil Partners could not end their relationship on the basis of adultery, due to the definition being acutely heterosexual in nature.
Then, in 2013 the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act received Royal Assent and the first same sex marriages took place in 2014. This, to some extent, overtook the need for Civil Partnerships. Some couples have converted their Civil Partnerships, and some haven’t.
So what are we left with?
We are now presented with two institutions which permit the same legal rights to those who enter into them: marriage and civil partnership. Legally speaking, they achieve the same purpose: to recognise committed relationships between two people.
The same prohibitions apply to both: you cannot be related, or under the age of 16 (without consent) and must not already be in an existing Civil Partnership or Marriage.
Whilst it is understood that some individuals historically opposed the institution of marriage on account of the underlying “property” or “religion” related connotations, given that same sex marriage is now legal, the idea of a woman being a man’s property has instantly become outdated. Further, Civil Marriage has been taking place for numerous decades meaning there is no need for a religious affiliation either.
What happens when either a marriage or civil partnership breaks down?
Well, exactly the same process with different terminology.
If you are married, you would apply for a divorce. If you are civilly partnered, you would apply for dissolution – using the same form. The process, court fee and end result is the same. When the time comes to resolve financial matters or child arrangements, what happens? Exactly the same thing, whether you are married or civilly partnered! Same forms and fees, different terms and check boxes.
If you are trying to decide which option to select, now that both are soon to be available to you, there is no discernible benefit of one over the other. The only difference that would appear to remain is that on ending a Civil Partnership, you cannot do so on the basis of the other party’s adultery. That is all.
Of course if you have a personal view about marriage or civil partnerships then that may add something else into the equation for you but from the legal standpoint there is no difference.
If you are wanting to take advice how to protect assets on entering either form of relationship, or indeed whether it is of any legal benefit to you to convert from one to the other, please do contact us.