Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2005 for same sex couples (as they were unable to gain legal rights from marriage at that time). In 2018, a co-habiting couple, Rebecca Steinfeld & Charles Keidan, won a legal battle for the right for heterosexual couples to also form civil partnerships. This law has now come into effect for 2020. Ms Steinfeld said their wish to form a civil partnership came from a “desire to formalise our relationship in a more modern way, with a focus on equality, and mutual respect”. Rebecca and Charles have now formally formed a civil partnership themselves.
What rights do co-habiting couples have?
Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing household group in Britain. There are currently approximately 3.3 million co-habiting couples in the UK. Many believe that they are legal protected by being “common law husband/wife”. Sadly, they are mistaken and many do not realise that they are not entitled to the same property, inheritance and tax entitlements as married couples and civil partners.
What are the options to gain legal rights?
Making a will
This is always a good first start! It can give partners rights to inheritance and administering an estate, which is a big help, but does not give all the legal rights of being married or civil partners.
If you do make a will and then subsequently get married or form a civil partnership, any existing will is revoked and void. Intestacy laws will then apply (ie., as if no will is in place)
Being married gives legal rights to a couple. However, many people are put off by the cost. Weddings can be Expensive. It’s usual to have a big ceremony to mark the occasion. The average cost of a wedding is now over £30,000!
Traditionally marriage was religious ceremony, but it doesn’t need to be so now. Some people are critical of the traditions surrounding marriage which stem from previous times where women were the property of their father, until they were passed on with their goods and identity to their husband.
Many want to formalise their relationship, gain legal rights and maybe celebrate with both friends and family, in a more modern and equal way, but they don’t want to be ‘married’. Having a civil partnership gives couples the same legal rights as being married. There is no requirement for a ceremony to take place and partners do not need to change surnames (unless they wish to).
What about incapacity?
Whether married or in a civil partnership, or co-habiting, you are not legally entitled to deal with property, finance & welfare matters for your partner if they lose capacity (ie., accident, stroke, dementia) and can’t manage for themselves, unless you have already set up a Lasting Power of Attorney. It’s important to remember to make a LPA before you need it, to appoint those you trust, ie., your partner or spouse, and this will give them legal rights to help you if and when needed.