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Civil Partnerships: What is going on?

Civil partnerships have certainly hit the headlines recently. However, an announcement from Theresa May that they may be opened up to mixed-sex couples and a Private Members Bill that would allow siblings to enter into one has lead to a very confusing picture.

So we asked Graham Coy, Partner at our London Chancery Lane office to join us on the blog to explain what is going on…

If there is some confusion about Civil Partnerships at the moment, that would hardly be surprising.

At the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham recently, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that the government was going to consult on allowing opposite sex or heterosexual couples being able to enter into civil partnerships.

At the moment, only same-sex couples can enter into Civil Partnerships.

These were introduced in 2004 when the then government did not wish to allow same-sex couples to marry but accepted that something needed to be done.

Since 2014, same-sex couples have been able to marry and, as a result, the number of civil partnerships has fallen substantially from nearly 15,000 in 2006 to only just over 900 in 2017.

At the same time, a Private Members Bill has been presented to the House of Lords which would allow siblings to enter into civil partnerships.

What will happen to this Bill is unclear. It is due to go before a Committee on a date which has not been fixed as yet, and it is unclear whether it will have government support.

Without Government support, it may not have much of a future.

The Bill would allow siblings to enter into civil partnerships and have all the rights and obligations that civil partnerships convey.

To be able to enter into civil partnerships, siblings would:

1. Both have to be 30 years old or more.
2. Have lived together for a continuous period of 12 years, immediately before entering into a civil partnership.

The thinking behind these conditions is unclear.

The benefits are clear, namely that:-

1. Civil partners would be able to inherit property on the death of one civil partner.
2. They would have all the tax advantages that married couples and civil partners have, for example in relation to Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax.
3. On the dissolution of the civil partnership, the property which each of them owns either in their own names or jointly could be divided and so could pensions.

The proposals made both by the government and by Lord Lexden, who is sponsoring the Bill in the House of Lords, raise far-reaching issues which merit public discussion.

For example, never before has the Law become involved in and tried to regulate relationships between members of the same family. The involvement of the Law has been limited to marriage and more recently civil partnerships.

Potentially, this is a far greater development than extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Can this be justified? Is it necessary?

The wider and more important issue, however, is what protection should be given, if any, to opposite-sex couples who live together, as man and wife, when those relationships break down. At the moment, they have very little protection at all.


12 October 2018

Graham was based at the firm's London family law office. His career as a family law specialist has spanned three decades. He is an experienced advocate, mediator and arbitrator who has worked in all areas of family law.

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