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Marriage or civil partnership – more choice for couples

A change in the law now offers mixed-sex couples up and down the country the option of forming a civil partnership instead of getting married.

The change, which offers couples a more modern way to formalise their relationship, comes after Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won a 5-year legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, in their bid to open up civil partnerships to all couples.

Previously, the law only allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships. These were first introduced as a means of providing same sex couples with the same legal rights as married couples.

During 2013, more than 5,600 same-sex couples formalised their relationship in this way. However, the number fell sharply to only 861 when same-sex marriage became legal.

It was this imbalance that prompted the legal battle to allow mixed-sex couples the right to choose between civil partnership and marriage in the same way that same-sex couples could.

As a result of the change in the law, mixed-sex couples were formally allowed to conduct their civil partnership from 31 December, 28 days after the minimum statutory notice period.

One couple taking advantage of the new law said they had both previously been married, and they strongly objected to having to repeat vows to one another that they knew hadn’t worked the first time.

Whilst another felt that their union was more about the equality of a partnership than a marriage.

Don Bird, family law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, welcomed the change and commented: “Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as common-law marriage. Unfortunately, couples who just live together, regardless of the number of years, simply do not have the same legal protection as married couples. This change in the law removes that discrimination and provides legal and financial security throughout the relationship as well as protection in the event the relationship ends.”

Why a civil partnership instead of marriage?
A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship that offers many of the same benefits as marriage, in terms of pensions, benefits and inheritance. However, there are no religious aspects and couples do not exchange vows.

When it comes to ending a civil partnership the dissolution process is similar to marriage, except that adultery cannot be used as a reason.

The government estimates that around 84,000 mixed sex couples will form civil partnerships during 2020.

Marrying or entering a civil partnership?

If you are planning to formalise your relationship, either by marriage or a civil partnership, and would like to know about protecting your interests, contact us for a confidential chat about your options. Call 01302 320621 or email


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Changing law makes civil partnerships open to all

The Prime Minister, Theresa May has announced that all couples, whether mixed-sex or same-sex will be able to choose between civil partnership and marriage.

The news follows the break though case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan who fought for 4 years to be allowed to have a civil partnership. The couple’s online petition was signed by over 130,000 supporters, and in June, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in their favour.

Civil partnerships were created in 2004 to give same-sex couples similar legal and financial protection to marriage.  In 2013 marriage between same-sex couples was legalised giving them the choice between civil partnership and marriage.

Although this was a successful move forward for same-sex couples, the choice has not been afforded to mixed-sex couples and has instigated the need for equality which has recently been challenged.

There are many reasons why a couple may choose a civil partnership over a marriage.  The BBC reported that there are over 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK, many of whom wrongly think that they have similar rights to those of married couples or civil partners.  This is often referred to as common law marriage.

Unfortunately this is not the case and cohabitees sadly find on separation or death of a partner that they have little rights in terms of property, pensions or inheritance.

By giving all couples the option of entering into a civil partnership, those who do not wish to be married will still be able to achieve the same protection given to married couples.

For some, the simple right of being someone’s next of kin is the advantage of entering into a civil partnership.  Others appreciate the chance to formalise their relationship without the involvement of religion or old traditions if that is not their belief.

Theresa May said: “This change in the law helps 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 government recognise that there are “a number of legal issues to consider, across pension and family law”.  It is now time for ministers to consult on the technical details.

The equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt has promised that the change in the law would happen “as swiftly as possible”.

Author: Stacey Powney


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Heterosexual couple win right to civil partnership at Supreme Court

Yesterday the Supreme Court found that a couple’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been breached by not allowing them to enter into a civil partnership.

Same sex couples currently have a choice in how they formalise their relationships. Under the Marriage (Same Sex couples) Act 2013 (MSSCA), same sex couples can get married. They can also enter into a civil partnership under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 (CPA). The latter is not available to different sex couples. Heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have argued that this is discriminatory.

Rebecca and Charles have a long term relationship and two children. They want to formalise their relationship, but not with marriage, which they see as historically patriarchal. They say they have an equal relationship and that they want to raise their children ‘as equal partners’ and feel that a civil partnership sets the best example of this.

They launched a legal challenge to what they saw as the inequality of the CPA in 2014, after already trying, and failing, to hold a ceremony in Chelsea Town Hall and being turned away. The challenge was heard in the High Court in 2016 and it challenge failed. It failed again in the Court of Appeal in 2017, but the couple were given permission to take their appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court judges unanimously supported Rebecca and Charles and said that the government should have eliminated the inequality caused by the CPA by abolishing it when the MSSCA came into force in 2013, or extended the CPA to apply to different sex couples immediately.

civil partnershipWhilst the judgment does not mean the government is obliged to change the law, it is hoped that it will be more encouraged to do so.

Don Bird, senior partner and head of Atherton Godfrey’s family law team says: “This is a significant step forward for those who have long argued that the inability of couples of the opposite sex to enter into a civil partnership was an unfair anomaly, creating injustice in the system.  It is pleasing to see that the Supreme Court agree and we hope that the government will now act quickly to remedy this.”

Click to read the full judgment of the Supreme Court.