Since 5th December 2005 it has been possible for members of the same sex to enter into a civil partnership, whether or not there is any romantic or sexual element. Civil partnerships are governed by very similar rules to marriage regarding their formation and dissolution. For example, close relatives cannot enter into a civil partnership. In 2006 there was a case brought by two sisters, Joyce and Sybil Burden, who argued that they should be able to enter into a civil partnership as they had never married and lived in their family home, in which they had cared for their late parents. When the first of them died, the survivor would be required to pay 40% inheritance tax on her dead sister’s share of their family home which she might be forced to sell to pay that tax. By contrast, the survivor of a married couple, or a surviving civil partner, would be exempt from paying such tax. The court, however, did not allow their argument and they could not enter into a civil partnership due to them being close relatives, just as close relatives cannot marry.
Civil partners have essentially the same rights and duties as spouses. There are the same financial claims available upon “dissolution”, the term used upon the ending of a civil partnership as opposed to “divorce”. The only difference is that adultery cannot be cited as a fact to support the application for a dissolution due to the definition in law of when consummation of a marriage takes place and there being no requirement for civil partners to be in a romantic or sexual relationship. Any affair can, however, easily be used as an example of unreasonable behaviour to obtain a dissolution.
At the time that civil partnerships were introduced it was decided that they should only be available to members of the same sex as marriage was available to opposite sex couples. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was then introduced which opened up marriage to same sex couples. The main argument which brought about this legislative change was to achieve equality but an inequality then ironically came about as same sex couples could choose either to enter into a marriage or civil partnership, but opposite sex couples could only choose marriage.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan challenged this as they took their case, arguing that they should be entitled to enter into a civil partnership, all the way to the top court in our country, the Supreme Court, and won. The government has now introduced further changes to the law which means that from New Year’s Eve 2019 it will now be possible for opposite sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. It remains to be seen what the uptake will be by opposite sex couples wanting to enter into a civil partnership as opposed to marriage, and it will be interesting to see how this develops.
For further information or assistance about a family law matter please contact Sarah French or another member of the Moore Blatch Family Team.