Can a Mixed Sex Couple Enter into a Civil Partnership?

02 July 2019

Under current law, civil partnerships are only available to same sex couples. But this is set to change following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2018, in which a mixed sex couple won the right to enter into a civil partnership.

Following this ruling the law is set to be reformed to make civil partnerships available to heterosexual couples, although no date has yet been confirmed for this reform.

The Supreme Court Ruling on Civil Partnerships

In a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2018, a heterosexual couple won the right to enter into a civil partnership. This concluded a lengthy legal battle during which the couple fought for their right to enter into a civil partnership as a mixed sex couple.

They claimed that the law, which only allows same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, is discriminatory and a breach of their human rights. The couple originally lost their case, but they continued to campaign for a change to the law and eventually they were granted permission to take their case to the Supreme Court – the highest Court in the UK.

The Supreme Court ruled in their favour. This means that the government now needs to take steps to change the current law on civil partnerships, and they are currently undertaking research to inform what these changes should look like.

The government expects to be in a position to issue their response in 2020.

How Could Civil Partnerships Benefit Mixed Sex Couples?

One of the key drivers during the campaign was to provide cohabiting partners with an alternative to marriage. Currently, if a mixed sex couple chooses not to get married, they have no other option to get legal recognition for their relationship. The popularity of marriage has been declining in recent years and as a result, cohabitation is now the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Contrary to popular belief, cohabiting couples do not currently have any legal recognition in England and Wales. This means that if the relationship ends or one person dies, then there are no legal protections in place to ensure the fair distribution of assets. Many cohabiting couples are not aware of this, with some believing that they are protected by something called common law marriage. In reality, there is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales.

Those campaigning for civil partnerships to be opened up to all believe that this could provide cohabitees with a viable alternative to marriage. The couple leading this campaign do not believe in the patriarchal institution of marriage, but still want to be able to gain legal recognition of their relationship.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the government has agreed that changing the law on civil partnerships could offer more security to the ever-growing number of cohabiting couples in the UK.

When Will The New Law Come Into Force?

No date has yet been set for when the amended law will take effect, or exactly what the changes will look like. The government is currently conducting research to help shape the reforms, and they expect this research to have completed in 2020.

Once this has taken place, we should have a clearer picture of exactly how the law will change as well as a timeframe as to when the changes will come into force. In the meantime, cohabiting couples who choose not to marry will not have any other option to gain legal recognition of their relationship.

One option that is available to cohabiting couples seeking to protect themselves is to put a cohabitation agreement in place. This is a document in which a couple can set out exactly how financial and other arrangements will be dealt with both during the relationship and in the event of separation.

It can cover things such as how rent or mortgage payments will be shared, as well as who is responsible for covering specific portions of bills and other household costs. In this document, the couple can also set out how they will divide any shared finances and property if they separate in the future. This helps to keep these arrangements fair and avoids added contention during a breakup.

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