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‘Will you NOT marry me?’

Legal Review with Coffin Mew

‘Will you NOT marry me?’

Coffin Mew family solicitor Stuart Duncan

This was the WhatsApp message from Catherine Oakley to her boyfriend after Theresa May announced that all couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to have a civil partnership rather than get married.

The Government move came after a Supreme Court decision earlier this year in favour of an unmarried couple, Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan, who wanted a civil partnership.

The couple successfully argued that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights because civil partnerships were only available to same same-sex couples.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was created to give same-sex couples – who at the time couldn’t marry – broadly the same legal and financial protection as married couples.

When the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised same-sex marriage, this left same-sex couples with a choice between civil partnerships and marriage, which was not available to mixed-sex couples.

Why does this matter?

There are a number of reasons people give for not wanting to get married, but high on the list is the feeling that marriage is an institution that promotes traditional gender roles with historical and religious connotations.

Civil partnerships are relatively new and so do not have many of the same connotations.

There is no requirement to have a ceremony or exchange vows and yet it provides broadly similar legal and financial protection.

It is now estimated that there are more than three million unmarried cohabiting couples in the UK.

Many of those couples believe they have similar rights and protections to those enjoyed by married couples.

That is not true, and it can cause enormous distress when a cohabiting partner finds out that they do not have the inheritance, property or pension rights they thought they had.

Whether you have co-habited for two or for 20 years, your position does not improve, and it is not uncommon for one partner (often the woman) to leave the relationship with nothing.

For example, an unmarried partner who stays at home and cares for the children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension sharing.

Becoming civil partners means couples will get these benefits without having to get married.

At the end of a civil partnership the court has wide discretion to make whatever order is fair having regard to all of the
available financial resources.

If you require legal advice in relation to your living arrangements, divorce or separation, please contact Stuart Duncan, family solicitor at Coffin Mew.

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