Is a Civil Partnership Better than Cohabiting?

24 July 2018

A recent UK Supreme Court ruling has granted a heterosexual couple the right to enter into a Civil Partnership, meaning that civil partnerships could soon be opened up to millions of cohabiting opposite-sex couples. But does a civil partnership offer more benefits to couples than simply living together?

Why Could the Law on Civil Partnerships Be Changing?

Up until now, civil partnerships have only ever been available to same-sex couples. They were introduced in 2004 as a way for same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition for their relationship before same-sex marriage was made available.

For the last 4 years, a heterosexual couple have been fighting for the right to enter into a civil partnership, as they want their relationship to be legally recognised but they don't want to get married. In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled in their favour stating that the existing law on civil partnerships breaches their human rights. For more information, see Heterosexual Couple Win the Right to Civil Partnership.

There's no guarantee on what will happen next, but many predict that the Government will make changes to the law in light of this ruling. This could mean that civil partnerships are soon made available to everyone.

Some feel that as the popularity of marriage declines, offering couples an alternative legal option is an important step forward. With 3.3 million couples in the UK currently living together (cohabiting) with no legal recognition of their relationship, the implications of this ruling could be huge.

Benefits of a Civil Partnership over Cohabiting

If a couple is living together while not being married or in a civil partnership then, contrary to popular belief, their relationship has no legal status at all.

This means that if one person dies then the other would not automatically be entitled to inherit anything from them. It also means that if the relationship breaks down, neither person has any legal protection regarding joint assets and financial matters. In the result of separation, one person could be left in financial ruin with no entitlement to financial support or a share in the other person's assets. Or they could find themselves without a roof over their head if their home was owned in their partner's sole name.

A civil partnership could remedy this, affording the couple similar legal rights to those of married couples. This means that if the relationship fails, the couple would need to formally end (or 'dissolve') their civil partnership through the Courts. Formally ending a civil partnership in this way will allow financial and children matters to be taken care of in a way that's fair and in line with the law.

If necessary, the Court can put arrangements in place to manage things such as the ongoing financial support of one partner as well as living arrangements and access to any children the couple have together.

Any Other Options for Mixed-Sex Couples?

If you want to gain some legal protection within your relationship, but you have no intention of getting married or entering into a civil partnership in the future, then you may want to consider drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement.

While a Cohabitation Agreement will not afford you the same level of protection as a civil partnership or a marriage, it does enable you and your partner to put a legal contract in place setting out key details, so that you both know where you stand. You can include things such as who will be responsible for covering household costs, who owns what proportion of the house and what should happen to your assets in the event of separation.

Providing that you've both been honest about your finances and assets, it's likely that a Court would enforce a properly prepared Cohabitation Agreement as it is a legal contract between you.

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