–      The government has confirmed the law will change to allow all couples – not just same sex couples – to enter into civil partnerships. Williams Thompson Solicitors LLP looks at what this change means – and what co-habiting couples should consider until it takes place.

Co-habiting couples should take steps to protect their rights as they await a change in the law on civil partnerships, family law experts Williams Thompson Solicitors LLP has urged.

Since 2005 civil partnerships have allowed same-sex couples to enter into a union that guarantees them similar legal rights to those who are married – but this has not been available to heterosexual couples who did not wish to marry.

In October 2018, following a supreme court ruling declaring that position discriminatory, the government announced it will change the law to allow heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships as well.

This may well be more appealing to many, who dislike the historical baggage and patriarchal associations of traditional marriage. And, unlike a marriage, there is no requirement for a ceremony to take place or for the exchange of vows. A civil partnership is a secular event; the partners must simply sign a document in front of two witnesses and a registrar.

Those in civil partnerships also enjoy same tax breaks and benefits, and the same rights in terms of state pension, property and possessions as married couples.

Emma Hamilton Cole, Head of Family Law and Partner at Williams Thompson Solicitors, said:

“The announcement is welcome news for the millions of co-habiting partners who have far fewer inheritance, property and pension rights than their married counterparts. But until things change and they can enter a civil partnership they have little or no legal protection in the event of a separation.”

“Unfortunately very many co-habiting couples in this country mistakenly believe in the myth of a ‘common-law marriage’. It can be very painful for them to discover, often during a separation or on the death of a partner that, unlike a spouse, they have no automatic rights to pensions or property, no matter how long they have been together, or whether they share children or not.”

No timeline for the change has been established; Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt promised that it will happen ‘as swiftly as possible’, although the government has said there are ‘a number of legal issues to consider, across pension and family law’ and ministers would now consult on the technical detail.

Adds Emma Hamilton Cole:

“Until they have the option of a civil partnership, it makes very good sense for cohabiting couples to consider alternative arrangements, such as a will or a cohabitation agreement. Both are easy and cost effective options to protect yourselves and your families.”

To find out more or to contact Williams Thompson Solicitors visit:www.williamsthompson.co.uk.

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