Supreme Court rules that Civil Partnerships should be open to all

Category: Cohabitation, Family

On 27 June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in their application to have a right to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage. The Court said that the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which only applies to same sex couples, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling of the Supreme Court overturned a previous Judgment made by the Court of Appeal which rejected the couple’s claim to a civil partnership in February of last year. The Judgment does not oblige the Government to change the law but it does make it more likely that the Government will now act.

In a civil partnership, a couple is entitled to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage.  Since March 2014, same sex couples can choose whether to enter into a civil partnership or to marry but this has not been possible for mixed sex couples which led Miss Steinfeld and Mr Keidan to ask the Court whether this position is discriminatory.

The Judges unanimously ruled that the current UK law was incompatible with human rights law on discrimination and the right to a private and family life.  The couple have made it clear that, in making their claim, they were not only fighting for their own personal wish to be civil partners rather than to be husband and wife, they were also raising awareness of the potential cause of the estimated 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK who may wish to be in a formal and legally recognised relationship without being married.

The issues for cohabiting couples not having a legal standing and the popular misunderstanding around “common law marriage” were highlighted last year following a case decided by the Supreme Court on 8 February 2017. Denise Brewster and Lenny McMullan had lived together for 10 years. Following Mr McMullan’s death, Miss Brewster was told that she was not entitled to receive benefits from his pension that would automatically have been paid to her as a surviving spouse because her late partner had failed to sign a form specifically nominating her as a beneficiary. Miss Brewster was successful with her argument that she was discriminated against as the same form was not required for married couples.

There are various steps that cohabitating couples can take to make sure that their partner is protected in the event of their death, including appropriate Will provision and nominating them specifically to receive sums of money to be paid on their death, including from life insurance policies and pension assets.  In addition to this and during their lives together couples can enter into an agreement known as a Cohabitation Agreement which will outline their financial arrangements.  However, none of these steps give a couple the same legal status they would have if they married and it is for this reason that the Judgment in June is seen as being a step forward in addressing the inequality not yet corrected by parliament.

If you are living with a partner or are thinking of moving in together and would like some advice about cohabitation agreements then please get in touch with a member of our specialist family law team who will be happy to discuss your options with you.