October 3, 2018

Government to change the law to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnership

The full text of the press release issued by the Government yesterday morning.

The Government will change the law to allow opposite-sex couples in England and Wales to enter into a civil partnership.

Under the current system, same-sex couples can choose to marry or register for a civil partnership whereas opposite-sex couples can only get married.

Extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples will not only address this imbalance, it will also provide greater security for couples who want to gain legal recognition for their relationship.

There are over 3.3 million unmarried couple families in the UK living together with shared financial responsibilities and nearly half of them with children. These households do not have the same legal protections as those who have a civil partnership or marriage.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married. As Home Secretary, I was proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage. Now, by extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life.”

Equalities Minster, Penny Mordaunt, said: “This is an important step forward for equality. There are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to marry.  By giving couples this option we hope to give them and their families more certainty and security.

I pay tribute to all who have campaigned for this change and will introduce the change as swiftly as possible.”

Extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples will provide a positive alternative for couples who might not have legally committed to each other otherwise.

The ability for couples to formalise their relationship encourages greater commitment, leading to greater family stability and greater security within relationships to help protect children’s interests.

Many unmarried couples in a long-standing relationship believe that they have acquired rights similar to those of married couples but in fact there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’, no matter how long a couple have lived together, even if they have children together.

This means cohabiting partners are not eligible for tax reliefs and exemptions for spouses and civil partners, including the inheritance tax exemption and the marriage income tax allowance.

In addition, a surviving cohabitant has no automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate, meaning they might not be able to afford to stay in the family home.

Bereavement Support Payments do not apply to cohabiting couples; a cohabitant does not benefit from their partner’s contributions for the purposes of state pensions and many occupational pension schemes do not provide the same survivor benefits to such couples.

Nor do unmarried couples have a guaranteed right to ownership of each other’s property on relationship breakdown. (A court may determine the shares based on the individual circumstances of their financial arrangements.)

There are a number of legal issues to consider, across pension and family law, and the Government will now consult on the technical detail.