Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships Legal From 2nd December

The case of Steinfeld and Another v Secretary of State for Education in 2017 had the Court of Appeal find that that the provision, whereby civil partnership was only available to same sex couples, was contrary to article 14 of European Convention of Human Rights (protection from discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention (right to a private and family life). 

Following the judgement, the Civil Partnership, Marriages and Death (Registration Etc) Act 2019 extended civil partnerships to heterosexual couples through the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019, which comes into force on the 2nd December 2019.  

The Regulations will allow opposite-sex couples to form a civil partnership, extending the protection offered to same sex civil partnerships regarding various rights and benefits, such as parental rights and financial entitlements. 

Parental Rights

Parents joined in a civil partnership will now have the same rights as they would should they have been married.  This will also be the case for children born via assisted reproduction, where the male civil partner will be regarded as the child’s father if he has consented to the procedure. 

Financial Entitlements 

As with same-sex civil partnerships, those who have lost a civil partner may be able to claim a Bereavement Support Payment, depending on the late partner’s national insurance record. 

All civil partners will now be able to make use of the Marriage Allowance, whereby a partner can transfer 10% of their personal allowance to the other enabling a saving of £250 a year on income tax. 

When it comes to pensions, the Regulations have confirmed that survivor benefits will be treated the same as with marriages.  There is a less favourable anomaly however when it comes to Guaranteed Minimum Payments for pensions of opposite-sex couples.   

Under the rules, female civil partners will be given the same entitlement as widowers, limited to the member’s post 1988 accrual.  This is different to the entitlement for a female survivor of a marriage, who will be given a widow’s entitlement, where the figure is based on the member’s accrual from 1978.  

No inheritance tax will be payable by opposite-sex civil partners on the death of their partner where they leave everything to their civil partner.  Even where the value of the estate exceeds the current £325,000 threshold.  When a civil partner’s estate is valued less than the threshold, any that is unused can be added to their partner’s. 

The changes will have been welcomed by many in the largest growing family type in the UK, cohabiting couples, who may have avoided marriage due to the connotations it brought.   

Some couples felt that marriage had ‘historical and cultural baggage’, an ‘age old institution’ from the time of dowries where women were seen as property and chattel rather than an equal partner.   

Others, like Steinfeld and Keidan wanted the protection of a legal union but wanted a more “modern, symmetrical institution” that civil partnership provided. 

The new legislation now allows more equal rights across all couples who wish for their union to be legally recognised, either in marriage or as a civil partnership, and will hopefully encourage more cohabiting couples to enter a partnership, and not fall victim to the ‘common law partner’ myth. 

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