Civil partnerships: the change in law

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After a lengthy legal battle, heterosexual couples across the country will now be allowed to enter into civil partnerships following a change to the law, which previously only allowed same-sex couples to become civil partners.

These new partnerships will offer almost identical rights as marriage, including property, inheritance and tax entitlements by courtesy of an amendment of Section 2(1) of the Civil Partnership, Marriages and Deaths (Registration) Act 2019.

This new arrangement will empower those individuals who decide not to get married, however do want to give their family stability and greater security within their relationship, as well as protecting their children’s interests.

What prompted the changes to the law?

This change comes after heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won their legal bid at the Supreme Court in 2018 to give them the right to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage.

The couple were initially turned away from a register office in 2014 however launched a legal campaign arguing that the 2004 Civil Partnership Act breached article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds that it discriminated against mixed-sex couples.

Whilst the couple were unsuccessful in the lower Courts, a Supreme Court decision held that the current legislation was incompatible with European human rights law.

When was the new legislation approved?

The Conservative Government under Theresa May subsequently approved new legislation which came into force on 2 December 2019. As heterosexual couples in England and Wales who wish to enter into a civil partnership must provide 28 days’ notice, the first date upon which heterosexual civil partnerships may be registered was 31 December 2019.

Civil partnerships were initially introduced in 2004 to allow same sex couples to gain the same legal rights as married couples, however numbers of new civil partnerships have dwindled significantly from a peak of 14,943 in 2006 to 956 in 2018 since the introduction of gay marriage in 2014.

Cohabiting families are the fastest growing demographic in the UK with numbers almost doubling in the past 20 years to 3.4 million, and in 2017, 48% of the country’s children were born to unmarried couples, therefore a change to the law to allow heterosexual civil partnerships has been seen by many as inevitable.

What are the implications for civil partners moving forwards?

Civil partnerships will now provide couples with the same legal protection as marriage should the parties split up or should one party die. The legislation removes a level of unfairness felt by many, as all couples will have the same options for formalising their relationships and give long term, cohabiting, opposite-sex couples who do not wish to marry the opportunity to gain rights and protection whilst ensuring stable family relationships.

This change will also mean that there is now a presumption of paternity in cases of a civil partnership, meaning that a child born to a woman in a civil partnership with a man is automatically seen as his child. The law has also been extended so that where a child’s mother and father were in a civil partnership at the time of the child’s birth, they shall each have Parental Responsibility for the child. Please note that a father will also be provided with Parental Responsibility if he is named on the child’s birth certificate.

What will this mean in practice?

In practice, this will mean that, in those situations where an individual previously had to obtain the consent of the mother or make an application to the Court to acquire Parental Responsibility, these difficulties will now be avoided.

Parties are able to protect their assets when entering a civil partnership by entering into a Pre-Civil Partnership Agreement. Provided that each party has freely entered into the agreement with full knowledge of its implications, and having had the opportunity to seek legal advice, any agreement is likely to be upheld by the Court.

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