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Civil partnerships for straight couples? Julian Hawkhead on BBC Radio Leeds

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March 28, 2024

This morning, I appeared on BBC Radio Leeds to discuss possible changes to civil partnerships with presenter Liz Green.

The conversation was prompted by a heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who started a campaign for a change in the law which would allow them to enter into a civil partnership. Under current law, only gay couples are eligible to do so.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 first created a mechanism for same sex couples to formalise their relationship without getting married. This was in place of allowing them to marry.

However, after the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples Act) 2013, gay couples were able to convert their civil partnerships into marriages if they wanted. Some have elected to do so, others did not. It is still too early to say what the conversion rate will be.

So for now, same sex couples have a choice if they want to formalise their relationship: they can either enter into a civil partnership or they can get married. As the 2004 Act defines a civil partnership as “a relationship between two people of the same sex”, straight couples are not eligible to enter into one.

There is undoubtedly an issue with current legislation, which is a bit of a botched job. As marriage is now an option for gay couples, the Civil Partnership Act has become something of an anomaly. I think there are only two ways to properly address this issue. Either we simply do away with civil partnerships altogether, or we allow straight couples to have them.

Getting rid of civil partnerships would be very problematic. There are many couples in civil partnerships now who don’t want to be married. What would happen to them? What would be the legal state of their relationships?

So that leaves us with allowing civil partnerships for straight couples. There is already talk of creating rights for cohabiting couples, so I think a civil partnership for those couples would work. If they do not want to be married, for whatever reason, but still want legal protection in matters involving inheritance or children, this could be the solution.

I regularly come across people who have been involved in long term cohabiting relationships but never married only to find that when their relationship ends, they were not entitled to ongoing financial support from their partner. The ‘common law spouse’ has no status in law.

Whilst I can see a case for providing financial support to people in cohabiting relationships, one also has to consider those couples who fall into such a relationship but have no wish or intention when they separate to have ongoing financial obligations to the other party. Does there need to be some sort of ‘opt in’ to such a financial relationship? Your views on all these issues would be welcome.

To listen to the full conversation, click here. The segment begins at 2:25:05 and my interview starts at 2:26:55.

Julian is Stowe Family Law’s Senior Partner and is based in our Leeds office. Julian has extensive experience in all aspects of family law particularly in complex financial disputes. He has been with the firm for over 20 years and has a reputation for his strategic thinking and ability to cut through to the key issues and solve the most intractable of cases.

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