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Same-sex couples are now able to enter legally binding civil partnerships giving the same benefits as married couples.

February 11th 2020 saw the first same-sex wedding in Northern Ireland, bringing parity with the rest of the UK.  In a further development, back in October 2018 the Government announced plans to allow mixed-sex couples in England and Wales to enter civil partnerships.  At that time, only same-sex couples could enter a civil partnership whereas mixed-sex couples could marry.

Since 31st December 2019 heterosexual couples can now form a civil partnership which legally recognises the relationship between the couple and offers many of the same rights as married couples in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.

Heterosexual civil partnerships can be entered by two adults if they are over eighteen (sixteen- and seventeen-year old’s need their parents’ permission); providing they are not already married or in a civil partnership and are not closely related.

The process requires giving at least twenty-nine days’ notice in the local authority where the individual has lived for the past seven days.  The ceremony is non-religious and is performed by a registrar.

Many couples choose not to marry for a variety of reasons, (whether on religious grounds or objections to women being ‘given away’ by men for example) and the recently introduced mixed-sex civil partnerships now provide these couples with a way of entering into a legally recognised relationship with the same rights, benefits and protection as those who are married.

Previously, mixed-sex couples living together had none of the pension, tax-breaks and inheritance tax reliefs given to married mixed-sex couples.  However, although civil partnerships do include such rights, it is important to remember that the often cited ‘common-law husband and wife’ has no legal basis and those couples (same or mixed sex) simply ‘living together’ have none of the benefits of those who are married or in a civil partnership.  Cohabitants who do not enter into a civil partnership or marriage remain vulnerable because they are not entitled to the same legal protection as spouses or civil partners.

The importance of succession planning for couples continues, whether married or in a civil partnership.  Given marriage/civil partnership revokes Wills, couples need to review their Wills to ensure their intended beneficiaries inherit and that children are protected.  Spouses/civil partners do not necessarily inherit the entire estate and are subject to the Intestacy Rules to determine which family members inherit.  

Furthermore, marriage/civil partnerships do not give partners a right to access all investments and bank accounts, such as ISAs for instance.  If one of a couple were struck with illness or accident, the other would need a Lasting Power of Attorney or expensive application to the Court of Protection to be appointed as a deputy to manage the paperwork.

Please contact Hassall Law for advice on ensuring your families and loved ones are protected in the event of death or incapacity.

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