Following the successful court application brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan against the Secretary of State for Education, Parliament has acted to provide for what could be a seismic change in the financial provision for unmarried same sex couples.
Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan were seeking a court declaration to the effect that the inability of heterosexual couples to enter a civil partnership was discriminatory and therefore incompatible with EU law (which is enshrined in UK law at present). The UK Supreme court agreed and pressure was brought to bear on parliament to bring about a change of law.
To achieve this, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 (‘the Act’) was made law on 26th May 2019.
What does the Act do?
Section 2 of the Act provides that the Government has the power to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 so that two persons who are not of the same sex are eligible to form a civil partnership in England and Wales.
This is indeed the bare bones but the Act also provides that the Secretary of State must exercise that power so that such regulations are in force no later than 31 December 2019.
The regulations are expected to be detailed as they would provide for an extension into financial provision for unmarried heterosexual couples who decide to enter into a civil partnership. Currently the financial provisions for civil partners of the opposite sex are broadly very similar to the financial provisions available for married couples.
This is an avenue for people who do not wish to marry but who want to create a sound basis for their financial affairs, as Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan wanted to do.
This will include for the very first time, provision for the possibility of pension sharing amongst other provision for unmarried heterosexual couples.
There will still need to be a formal civil partnership to gain these rights and it will not be an automatic scheme to provide for what are still often called ‘common-law marriages’.
There is therefore likely to remain a large number of unmarried people (same sex or opposite sex), who do not enter into a civil partnership for whom proper financial provision upon relationship breakdown simply does not exist.
If you are affected by any issues raised by this article, please contact Richard Busby at Giles Wilson to discuss.