Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed that all couples in England and Wales will soon be able to choose between a civil partnership or a marriage.
Civil partnerships were first introduced in 2004 as a concession to providing same-sex partnerships with similar legal and financial protection to that of marriage.
In 2014, same-sex marriages were legalised, giving same-sex couple a choice. However, the same wasn’t extended to mixed-sex couples and the government hopes that this announcement will address this “imbalance”.
Announcing the plans during the Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May said:
“This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship, but don’t necessarily want to get married.
She was supported by Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt who added:
“This is an important step forward for equality. There are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to marry.
“By giving couples this option, we hope to give them and their families more certainty and security.
But what does this actually mean?
Let’s take a look.
How do civil partnerships and marriages compare?
Civil Partnerships were announced as an interim measure before same-sex marriage was legalised.
Although similar to marriage in many ways, Civil Partnerships are slightly different.
- Legally, couples cannot call themselves “married”, they must refer to themselves as “civil partners”.
- Unlike marriages, adultery isn’t recognised in civil partnerships, and infidelity cannot be used as grounds to dissolve a civil partnership.
- In a civil ceremony you do not need to exchange vows and there must be no religious connotations. The union will be valid upon the simple signing of a civil partnership document.
- Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties whereas marriage certificates only include the names of the fathers of each party.
Why choose a Civil Partnership over a marriage?
In 2017, there were 908 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales – a 2% increase from the previous year (Source: ONS).
This is the second consecutive year in which the number of civil partnerships has risen, despite the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2014.
But why would couples choose to formalise their relationship via a civil partnership rather than a marriage?
Some of the common suggestions include:
- Couples may wish to benefit from similar financial and legal protection as those who are married.
- They may not agree with the religious connotations associated with traditional marriage.
- They may object to the patriarchal history of marriage – for example being “given away” by their fathers or having to “obey” their husbands.
What does this mean for common-law marriages?
Simply put, despite widespread misbelief, there is no such thing as a common-law marriage.
We’ve previously written about the common-law marriage myth and co-habiting couples have very little specific legal protection when they split up.
There are approximately 3.3 million unmarried couples in England and Wales. These couples do not have any legal partnership rights.
It often comes as a shock to people to discover that their inheritance, property or pension rights are much more complex, or even non-existent, upon separation or death of a “common-law” partner.
It is thought that the introduction of mixed-sex civil partnerships could be hugely popular amongst cohabiting couples who may object to marriage but wish to benefit from legal and financial protection.