Should heterosexual couples be allowed to enter into a civil partnership?
On Friday 29th January 2016, the High Court dismissed a heterosexual couple’s application for judicial review of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 stating that the legislation did not discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Rebecca Steinfield and her partner of 5 years, Charles Keiden argued that heterosexual couples, like same sex couples, should be allowed to enter into a civil partnership in order to secure legal recognition of their relationship. At present, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 only permits same sex couples from entering into a civil partnership, leaving heterosexual couples with no other way of securing legal recognition of their relationship other than through a marriage.
Dr Steinfield and Mr Keiden stated that civil partnerships are a “modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, but without its history and social expectations” and that heterosexual couples should be afforded a way of having their relationship legally recognised but without the need to enter into a marriage.
However, the High Court refused to allow Dr Steinfield and Mr Keiden’s challenge, with Mrs Justice Andrew’s confirming that the Government’s refusal of their demand was “not unlawful and not in breach of their human rights for private and family life”. She did however give the couple permission to appeal as she felt that the case “raises issues of wider importance”.
Differences between married and non-married couples
Married couples have different legal rights and responsibilities to non-married couples, and are afforded different legal protections upon relationship breakdown and death. For example, financial provision between divorcing couples is much wider than financial provision between separating couples, with divorcing couples being allowed to claim on-going maintenance from an ex-spouse, as opposed to separating couples who have no such claim.
Many non-married couples feel this is unfair and that the law should be changed to allow them the same legal rights, responsibilities and protections as married couples. There are many reasons why some couples chose not to get married and many feel that it is unfair that their loving and committed relationship is not recognised in the same way.
At present however, there is no sign of the law changing and non-married couples are well advised to consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement to set out the rights and responsibilities of each partner, and to detail what would happen in the unfortunate event of a relationship breakdown or the death of one of the partners.
If you require any advice and assistance in relation to relationship breakdown, either as a married or non-married partner, please contact Lorna Barry or Kirsty Bowers.