The Supreme Court has ruled that a heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter a civil partnership suffered discrimination. The landmark ruling, in favour of Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan, may now prompt a review of the law.
Ms Steinfield and Mr Keidan lost previous challenges in the High Court and Court of Appeal for the right to enter a civil partnership. The couple cited ‘deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage’ as their reason for wanting a civil partnership instead of marriage.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only allows same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the judgment does not oblige the government to allow heterosexual civil partnerships, it does increase the chances of a change in the law.
Gaby Hardwicke Family Law Partner Debra Frazer commented: “This is a welcome decision from the Supreme Court and one which recognises, in reality, another form of relationship which many people wish to enter into in today’s society.
“It is to be hoped that the government will now take steps, quickly, to amend the existing legislation to enable heterosexual couples to enter into a legally binding union in the form of a civil partnership. This will then give them the same legal rights as married couples and same-sex civil partners in relation to important issues such as tax, pensions and inheritance, which can only be right and just.”
The common law marriage myth
It’s a common misconception that unmarried couples who live together have a ‘common law marriage’ that affords them the same legal rights as married couples and those in a civil partnership. In reality, while cohabitants do have some legal protection in certain areas, there is no general legal status for such couples.
A cohabitation agreement (also called a living together agreement) can set out how a cohabiting couple’s assets should be divided if they separate. It can also set out any child support and financial maintenance arrangements. To be legally enforceable, a cohabitation agreement must be deemed ‘fair’ in the eyes of the court and both parties should obtain independent legal advice on the agreement which can cover any aspect of the cohabitation including property rights, capital division and pension nominations.
For expert help with drawing up a cohabitation agreement, please contact one of our Family Law Partners: