In June, the Supreme Court ruled that denying heterosexual couples the right to have a Civil Partnership was inherently discriminatory. Hot on the heels of this judgement, The Prime Minister recently announced her government’s intentions to make it possible for heterosexual couples to enter into Civil Partnerships, rather than get married. Would this be an important change and what, in the unfortunate event that the relationship comes to an end, would be the difference?
The choice would be a matter of preference. Mr Keidan and Mrs Steinfeld, who took the matter to the Supreme Court, did so because they reject marriage on the basis that it has historical implications in terms of women’s equality and religious connotations, that they considered inapplicable. This is quite a common argument. Another is the feeling that a Civil Partnership can be more applicable to individual couples rather than marriage, which can be perceived as somewhat “one size fits all”.
If the relationship does breakdown, the difference between Marriage and Civil Partnership is very slight. Much of the difference is a matter of wording. In the breakdown of a marriage, the parties are referred to as the Petitioner and Respondent to the Divorce. In a Civil Partnership, the parties are referred to as Applicant and Respondent to the Dissolution of the Civil Partnership. In a marriage, one would obtain a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute. In a Civil Partnership, one would obtain a Conditional Order and then a Final Order. A notable difference is that while the other facts in support of the irretrievable breakdown remain the same (Unreasonable behaviour, two years separation with consent, five years separation and desertion) in a Civil Partnership, Adultery is not available as one of the grounds that can be relied on. This is a hangover from a discriminatory viewpoint as to whether same sex sex is considered as such. Given the current push for equality, this distinction is also likely to change, when the Government does take action.
The consequences of the breakdown of a civil partnership and a marriage are, by and large, the same. Civil partners have the same rights under the Children Act as married partners. Civil Partners have the same rights as married partners in financial proceedings and are treated the same way upon death. The Family Law Act 1996 now provides the same protections from domestic violence to civil partners and married partners.
The difference between the two options may increasingly become obsolete. One of the options that the government is currently considering is to do away with the concept of civil partnerships, given that marriage is now available for all.
It is also somewhat ironic to note that same sex couples spent decades campaigning for equality, and same sex marriage, only for heterosexual couples to achieve the same result in reverse in a matter of years. Perhaps this is indicative of progress… or maybe the lack thereof.
Clive Hogan – rhw Solicitors LLP