From 31st December 2019, opposite-sex couples have been offered an alternative way of formalising their relationship, through a Civil Partnership. A Civil Partnership is a legal union, similar to marriage, but lacks the symbolic meaning associated somewhat with the latter. Civil Partnerships are not novel, having been available to same-sex couples since 2004. However, since the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the government has faced pressures to extend partnerships to heterosexual couples. The procedure for a Civil Partnership is a secular one and involves a registrar, however a religious ceremony before or after the formation of the partnership is permitted. The new legislation also means that couples who obtained a legal civil partnership in another jurisdiction, such as New Zealand and the Isle of Man, already have this union legally recognised within England and Wales.
Difference between marriage and a civil partnership?
Legally, they are virtually the same! A civil partnership creates parallel legal rights in property, tax and inheritance to name but a few, and offers the same financial protection should the partnership be dissolved.
However, there are some minor differences that should be considered. A marriage is voidable (eligible for annulment) should the respondent have a venereal disease at the time of the marriage, and also in regards to non-consummation (though this is only applicable to opposite-sex marriage), but these are not valid grounds to make a civil partnership voidable. Furthermore, adultery is not in itself recognised as proving ‘irretrievable breakdown’ on dissolution of a civil partnership, as it is for divorce, however this makes little practical difference for the purpose of dissolving the partnership, as adultery is used to prove other grounds of dissolution. Furthermore, as divorce law is changing to remove fault altogether (see https://www.lexsnap.com/blog/2020-06-25-no-fault-divorce-set-to-be-available-from-autumn-2021) , this will be of even less significance in the future.
Is it beneficial?
Couples are free to choose between marriage and civil partnerships should they wish to formalise their relationship. Civil partnerships may be a particularly attractive option to those who oppose marriage, be for the religious or patriarchal connotations some associate with it or otherwise. This is especially relevant to those who do not wish to get married, but mistakenly believe that through long-term cohabitation they acquire similar rights to that of a spouse/civil partner, and find it extremely difficult and complex to obtain a financial remedy in the event of relationship breakdown. Whether people choose to ‘tie the knot’ with a traditional marriage, civil partnership or not at all, this extension is a welcome reform in offering couples with more choice as to what works for them and their relationship.