In June a couple succeeded in their legal bid to have civil partnerships recognised for heterosexual couples. 
The Supreme Court said the Civil Partnership Act, which currently applies only to same-sex couples, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. 
However, the judgement doesn’t mean that the government will have to change the law. 
What is a civil partnership? 
In a civil partnership, a couple can have the same legal status as marriage in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements. A civil partnership offers: 
• legal and financial protection for both parties in the event of the relationship ending 
• a recognised relationship without any religious elements or associations with property and control. 
The Civil Partnership Act came into effect in 2005 and was followed by the the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013, which legalised same sex marriages. This means that gay couples can formalise their relationship in law through marriage or civil partnership, whereas heterosexual couples can only marry. 
More than 130,000 people have signed an online petition in support of civil partnerships for everyone. The government agrees that the position is unfair, but says it needs time to gather information about the implications of changing the law. 
In the meantime, there are around 3.3 million co-habiting couples in the UK. What can you do if you are living with your partner to provide for each other’s future? 
Many people call co-habiting a ‘common law marriage’ and assume that they already have the same legal protection as married couples. 
In fact, if one partner dies without a will (intestate), then their loved one might not receive anything from their estate and might not even be able to stay in their home. 
To make sure your partner inherits your estate if you die, you will need to write a will. However, your unmarried partner will be responsible for inheritance tax. 
Care for children 
While mothers are recognised as having parental responsibility for an unmarried couple’s children, unmarried fathers must obtain this recognition. 
You can do this, with the mother’s agreement, through a parental responsibility agreement or order, you can adopt your children or be named as their guardian in their mother’s will. 
If unmarried fathers want to name a guardian for their children in their own will, then they must be recognised as having parental responsibility or guardianship. 
Next of kin 
While many organisations will often recognise an unmarried partner as next of kin, it isn’t automatic. In practice, doctors do usually discuss decisions with the patient's family and will normally include your partner. 
Generally, adults must give consent for any medical treatment they might need. However, if you are unconscious or unable to give consent, through mental incapacity, your partner can make decisions on behalf if you have a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place. 
Who can benefit from an occupational or personal pension scheme will depend on the terms of the scheme. You can normally confirm who you want to benefit using an ‘expression of wishes’ form. 
In contrast, occupational pension schemes must offer equal benefits for husbands and wives. 
Visit the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website for more information about the differences between living together and marriage. 
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