A heterosexual couple have won a landmark legal battle for the right to enter a civil partnership instead of getting married. Rebecca Patience, family lawyer at Harrison Drury, looks at the transformation this could have on many people’s lives.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan reject traditional marriage values, so instead they wish to formally acknowledge their relationship through a civil partnership to give them the same legal and financial protection as marriage.
The couple, who have been together for eight years and have two children, said that the “legacy of marriage”, which “treated women as property for centuries” wasn’t an option for them. They want to raise their children as equal partners and feel that a civil partnership is a modern, symmetrical institution.
The legal battle
A ruling in 2017 said they couldn’t have a civil partnership because they did not meet the legal requirement of being the same sex. While the judges agreed that the current law could potentially violate the couple’s human rights, it was decided that the government should have more time to decide on the future of civil partnerships.
However, after taking their legal battle further, in a landmark decision the supreme court has unanimously ruled in favour of the couple. The court stated that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only applies to same sex couples – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
What will this mean for the future couples
This judgement doesn’t mean that the government are obliged to change the law and it doesn’t mean that all heterosexual couples are now eligible for a civil partnership.
But it does make it more likely that the government will review the legal options that men and women have when choosing how they reside together. It raises the questions as to whether they will now act and extend civil partnerships to all or disband civil partnerships entirely.
Why choose a civil partnership over marriage?
There is no such thing as a common law marriage, so for couples who don’t want to get married, a civil partnership offers the same legal protection and a formal recognition of commitment, but in a way described as being modern and equal.
The equal legal treatment that a civil partnership affords covers inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements and the rules of entering a civil partnership mirror those of marriage. While the rules for dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as divorce, except that adultery cannot be used a supporting fact.
A civil partnership is also free of the religious connotations of marriage and in the ceremony, there are no requirements to exchange vows.
Harrison Drury has an experienced team of family and divorce lawyers in Lancashire and Cumbria. If you would like to speak confidentially to the team about any family law matter, contact them on 01772 258 321.