MPs will this week vote on a bill to allow heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships.
The second reading of the bill tabled by former children’s minister Tim Loughton has cross-party support. Mr Loughton told The Times newspaper that he was “optimistic” that the government would support his bill, as Ministers had backed it at the first reading.
As well as creating equal civil partnerships – ensuring heterosexual couples have exactly the same opportunity to register a civil partnership as same-sex couples – the bill also includes creating a system of proper registration for still born babies, and ensuring that a mother’s name can be on a marriage certificate.
More than three million heterosexual couples who co-habit, could benefit from the bill. Currently, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 only permits same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships – and three years ago gay couples became able to marry.
As my colleague Nia Jameson pointed out in a previous blog, many supporters of heterosexual civil partnerships believe they could be a way of giving cohabiting couples legal rights. Couples who live together are the fastest growing family type, yet have no status in law. For those who do not want to marry, a civil partnership would give them greater legal protection if their relationship fails.
In his interview with The Times, Mr Loughton commented: “The same-sex civil partnerships bill created an inequality for the opposite sex”. He said he was particularly concerned about the impact on children of family breakdown, which is higher for couples who are unmarried, or not in a civil partnership.
A change in the law to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples is one of the reforms recommended by The Times in its Family Matters campaign, launched with the Marriage Foundation, which wants reforms to the divorce laws.
Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman of the Marriage Foundation, told The Times that the charity supports the bill. “By making civil partnerships available to heterosexual couples, we would provide a new formal basis for those who want to make a solid and legally backed commitment to one another but who prefer not to marry, for whatever reason.
“In the end this can only be of huge benefit to children who are currently at most risk of experiencing the rigours of family breakdown.”
Mr Loughton’s bill is timely as this year Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan will bring a test case before the Supreme Court, arguing the right to a civil partnership. Their campaign has support from MPs from all parties and 78,000 people signed a petition. The couple took the government to court in 2014 and last year the Court of Appeal said that their human rights may have been breached. The court gave the government more time to decide on the future status of civil partnerships.
I shall await the outcome of Mr Loughton’s bill with interest. However, as my colleagues and I always stress, the only way currently for couples who live together to protect their legal rights is to have a Cohabitation Agreement in place.
The reality is that even were heterosexual couples given the right to enter into civil partnerships, this would not confer any rights onto couples who simply live together without marrying or registering a civil partnership. Those who have avoided marriage for financial reasons are no more likely to enter into a civil partnership.
For this reason alone, anyone who is cohabiting or is thinking of doing so, needs to take advice as to their legal rights and what may happen if the relationship were to end.
If you have any questions about civil partnerships or cohabitation you can speak to me, or a member of our expert team on 0191 500 0777.You can email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow me on Twitter at @waynelynn and Silk on @silkfamilylaw