In the future, every couple in England & Wales, will be able to choose between a marriage or civil partnership to formalise their relationship.
Steinfeld and Keidan v Secertary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary)  UKSC 32
In a civil partnership, the couple are enabled to have equivalent (to marriage) treatment regarding pensions, taxes and next of kin arrangements. The same sex couples have enjoyed the freedom to decide between a civil partnership and marriage. However, heterosexual (opposite sex) couples have not enjoyed this freedom.
In the case of Steinfeld, the parties courageously bore a hard-fought legal battle to have the right, as a heterosexual (opposite sex) couple, to enter into a civil partnership - as opposed to the traditional alternative of marriage.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court considered this issue and declared that s.1 and s.3 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 are incompatible with Article 8 (right to private life) and Article 14 (prohibiting discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court, quite rightly, concluded that the position preventing heterosexual couples from entering a civil partnership could no longer stand.
The words of Lady Hale (echoing research) ring true at this moment in time. She commented, on the difference between the Scottish legislation, and the legal position in England & Wales. She highlighted research and stated, “The Act has undoubtedly achieved a lot for Scottish cohabitants and their children,” adding: “English and Welsh cohabitants and children deserve no less.” It seems it now time for England & Wales to catch-up…?
Changes in Society?
- The office for National Statistics’ has evidenced a steady rise in cohabitation. The bulletin of 27/07/2018, evidenced that the number of single and never married population, in England & Wales, has increased by 3.9 million from 2002-2017. Further, 1 in 10 of people were living in a couple and have not previously been married or civil partnered.
- NatCen Panel survey, commissioned by Prof Barlow, revealed that more than 70% were in favour of extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
- The Resolution (first for family law) organisation, which embodies 6,500 family law professionals, said that “…although one in six couples currently live together without being married, huge numbers of them face distress should they separate….”.
- The Marriage Foundation supports outspreading civil partnerships to heterosexual couples by stating they are “infinitely preferable to unthinking and risky cohabitation”.
The progressive societal changes seem to be reflecting statistics, the Office for National Statistics evidenced a second year of increase in the number of civil partnerships and rise of 2% in civil partnerships since last year.
It seems that the forthcoming changes could lead to the numbers increasing – only time will tell if civil partnerships shall be considered as a viable and acceptable alternative to marriage…
The government’s approach to changing societal views and case law, has been slower then expected. The drive is now seemingly for the government to implement the changes as soon as possible and without further time-consuming consultation(s).
Let us hope that Prime Minister May can progress the matters without delay and fulfil the changes that she promises will “…help protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship, but don’t necessarily want to get married….”
The question now remaining is…. how do you seek to formalise your relationship?
We invite you to visit our website https://www.optimalsolicitors.com/
or contact us on 0161 250 7771.
The author of the article is our solicitor -
Azhar Hussain, who is also Head of Family Department