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Supreme court rules heterosexual couples should be able to have civil partnerships

The Supreme Court has ruled that a heterosexual couple should be allowed to enter into a civil partnership, rather than getting married, setting an important precedent.

The landmark case was brought by Dr Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, a couple from London. They first launched a Judicial Review challenge to the UK government’s decision not to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples in 2014.

The Supreme Court’s decision overturns a previous ruling against the couple by the Court of Appeal in February 2017. The new ruling was based on the Court’s conclusion that excluding opposite-sex couples from civil partnerships was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Dr Steinfeld said: "We are feeling elated. But at the same time we are feeling frustrated the government has wasted taxpayers' money in fighting what the judges' have called a blatant inequality."

The couple, who first met in 2010 and have two children together, say they do not want to get married as they feel marriage as a tradition has “treated women as property for centuries” and that they see civil partnership as a “modern, symmetrical institution”.

While the Supreme Court’s decision does not mean the UK government is required to change the law with regards to heterosexual couples entitlement to civil partnerships, it does significantly increase the likelihood that the law in this area with now be reviewed.

What is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

While marriage and civil partnerships give couples the same basic legal rights and entitlements, there are some minor differences in how the way.

Some of the key differences are:

  • Civil partners cannot legally refer to themselves as being “married”.
  • A civil partnership certificate will include the names of both parents of each partner, while a marriage certificate only includes the names of the two parties’ fathers.
  • Adultery is not recognised as a reason to dissolve a civil partnership, unlike with a marriage (although even with marriage, only infidelity with someone of the opposite sex is counted as adultery). For civil partnerships, sex outside of the marriage is instead classed as “unreasonable behaviour”.

Things to consider when entering a civil partnership

With a growing number of couples choosing to marry or enter a civil partnership later in life, it is common for each party to have built up significant assets, such as property, savings and investments. It is therefore often sensible to think about how those assets would be protected if your relationship ends.

While many people are familiar with the concept of a pre-nuptial agreement for marriage, there is also an equivalent provision for civil partnerships known as a pre-registration agreement (also sometimes referred to as a ‘civil partnership agreement’).

This allows you to set out exactly how your assets will be divided if your relationship ends, providing peace of mind for both parties that your long-term interests will be protected, no matter what the future brings.

Crisp & Co’s family law solicitors in London and the South East have years of experience in dealing with civil partnerships, so can offer expert support for all related issues, including pre-registration agreements and civil partnership dissolution.

To find out more, speak to one of our expert family lawyers now by calling 020 3797 4952 or use the enquiry form below to request a call back.

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