Relationships And The Law
Earlier this year, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, lost their Court of Appeal case, in which they sought the right to be able to enter into a civil partnership, instead of a marriage. The couple reject the traditional notion of marriage and wanted a civil partnership which is currently only available for same sex couples in the UK.
The couple launched legal proceedings against the UK government and claimed they were being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. All three Judges accepted that there could be a potential breach of the couples’ human rights by not being permitted to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage. However, the court felt that the issue was one for the government to address in terms of new legislation.
It may of course be that the government ultimately decides to abolish the concept of civil partnerships, which would put both same sex and heterosexual couples on the same footing. Until then, the differences between the three types of legal relationship ate as follows:-
Married couples are entitled to a fair share of the matrimonial property which has been built up during the period of the marriage up until the date of separation. The law does not provide that the assets will be split 50/50 on divorce, although tends to be the starting point to consider division of the assets. Married couples also have rights on each other’s estate upon death automatically, known as prior rights.
Civil partnerships confer upon a same sex couple virtually identical rights to that of a married couple. The only difference is that it is not legally classed as a marriage. Financially, exactly the same rights are conferred and the assets and debts are divided in the same way upon dissolution of a civil partnership as they are upon divorce.
The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 makes it possible for a cohabitant to make a financial claim following the breakdown of their relationship. However, cohabitants have no automatic right to claim anything upon the breakdown of their relationship and they are not afforded the same level of protection as a married couple would be upon divorce. There is also a very strict timescale for making a financial claim and that must be made within one year of the date of their separation. Same sex and heterosexual cohabiting couples are treated in the same way from a legal perspective. Cohabitants are not automatically entitled to anything from their cohabitee’s estate on death unless provided for in a Will. If they die without a Will, they can make a claim on the estate but it must be made within six months of death.
Therefore, for any heterosexual couple it is worth thinking seriously about their future, particularly when deciding whether to perhaps continue cohabiting or enter into a marriage. If the notion of marriage is one that does not sit comfortably with a couple, then they should be aware of the cohabitation legislation and should seek specialist advice on that from the outset, to ensure that they are aware of their rights and, what they can and cannot expect to receive in the event of a future separation.View all →