Civil partnership or cohabitation – which is better?

Not everyone wants to get married in a church or registry office. For many cohabiting couples, a civil partnership is far more attractive – it moves away from the idea of women being the ‘property’ of their husbands and is infinitely more acceptable to those who do not follow any particular faith.

Civil partnerships have been available for same-sex couples since 2004, yet they are still not available for heterosexual couples who cohabit. In June the legality of denying heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership was challenged in the High Court by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld. Much to everyone’s surprise, the court agreed with them that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and discriminated against heterosexual couples. That successful challenge to the current legislation could mean that civil partnerships for heterosexual couples could become a distinct possibility. But is it a wise choice? Or is it better to remain as cohabitees?

Why is cohabiting a problem?

Marriage and civil partnerships give couples far more autonomy over their relationship than simple cohabitation. It means that if a partner dies, the spouse or civil partner is not left in limbo, fighting for the right to take control of everything they’ve built up together. Both marriage and civil partnerships tend to give partners far more legal protection in the event of death or separation, as well as offering greater degrees of stability for any children in the partnership.

Civil partnerships and marriage basically offer the same level of protection, so legally there is very little difference between the two. It really only matters whether you agree with the principles of marriage as opposed to a faith-less civil partnership.

Cohabitation is becoming increasingly accepted as an alternative to marriage or civil partnership relationships. The only difference is that a cohabitee relationship has not been ‘endorsed’ legally. For example, your ‘next of kin’ doesn’t have to be related to you by blood or marriage – that person can be designated so cohabiting couples can nominate their partner as a next of kin. Hospitals recognise a cohabitant partner as a next of kin or family, although there have been instances in the past where partners have been denied access (albeit temporarily) by a particularly officious hospital worker because they’re not the legally-endorsed husband or wife of the patient.

While it’s all very well to say there is technically no difference between a cohabitee relationship and a civil partnership, that is only really anecdotal. If things end up in court, then the differences become very clear indeed, regardless of personal feelings. The letter of the law states that cohabitees do not have the same rights in law as married couples or civil partners. However, it’s not always the case that judges simply side with the letter of the law. The recent challenge by Charles and Rebecca is an indication of a willingness by the legal profession to judge each case on its individual merits. It is still going to take a change in legislation to make the Civil Partnership Act fair for everyone, though.

Civil partnerships – a barrier to independence?

Civil partnerships are governed by the same kind of legislation as marriages. That means in the event of a breakdown in a relationship, civil partners are still going to have to go through ‘divorce’ proceedings to untangle their lives. Cohabitees can, in theory, simply separate and sort out their own affairs without any kind of imposition by the state.

Nice, in theory. In practice, though, it doesn’t work like that, and cohabiting couples who decide to split can find themselves tangled in far more legal wrangling than their married or civil partnership friends. Acrimonious separations can turn very nasty indeed, with no clear guidelines in law as to how property should be divided up, or how child support or access should be decided. Unless you’ve gone into your cohabitation with a large A4 binder filled with consensual agreements, you’re going to need help sorting out the details.

Providing the option of civil partnerships for cohabiting heterosexual couples means that finally, there really will be equality for all when it comes to deciding how two people can live together. It gives cohabiting couples legal standing, and not just a ‘yeah, it’s okay, we’re cool with you two living together’ approach that can quickly unravel when things get serious in court.

Civil partnerships for heterosexual couples are a natural progression and, according to the ruling given out by the High Court back in June, should be fair and equal for everyone, including both same-sex and heterosexual couples. However, the challenge to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 has only just begun, and while Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld’s success in the High Court has forced the judiciary to look again at the legality of the Act, it could take a long time for the change in legislation required to ensure equality for heterosexual couples who want a civil partnership. If you need help sorting out your affairs or want to know more about your legal standing as cohabitees, talk to a family law solicitor.

Jane Wheeler is a family solicitor at Verisona Law, she can be contacted on 023 9224 6714 or by email to jane.wheeler@verisonalaw.com.

You can read more about the myths of common law marriage here.


We have set out below a full list of the services our Family Department can provide whatever your circumstances. If you do however have a query which does not relate to any matter detailed below, please do contact our Family team who will endeavour to assist you.

Divorce or Civil Partnership Dissolution

Whether you are the Petitioner or the Respondent within proceedings or whether you are simply contemplating the same we can provide guidance throughout the entire process. We can assist with:

  • Drafting of documents
  • Negotiations with the other party
  • Correspondence with third parties such as the Court
  • Advice face to face, by telephone, by email.

Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements

Whether you are planning to marry or indeed have now married and wish to formalise arrangements in the event of separation we can advise and assist with the following:

  • Drafting agreements
  • Negotiating settlement
  • Corresponding with all parties

Separation

Whether you are married or living together and in the event you decide to go your separate ways we can assist in formally documenting terms of separation. We can assist in the following ways:

  • Drafting Separation Agreements whether in contemplation of divorce or whether to simply record the split of a cohabiting couple
  • Negotiations with third parties
  • Providing you with advice whether face to face, by telephone or by email.

Arbitration

Arbitration is an alternative to resolving disputes through the Court. At Verisona Law we can assist in a number of ways either by assisting you through the Arbitration or by referring matters to our in house Arbitrator. We offer competitive arbitration rates and a member of our team will be happy to assist with any queries in this regard. Please see our current articles on Arbitration for more details about the process.

Cohabitees/living together

If you have chosen not to marry but wish to live together you may wish to formalise the arrangements and details for doing so. We can assist in the following:

  • Drafting cohabitation agreements/living together agreements
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising you in person, by telephone or email as appropriate.

Divorce where Business are involved

We have extensive experience in dealing with breakdown of marriage where one or both parties are owners of businesses or indeed it may be the family business. We have experience in providing you with advice and signposting for business valuations and will ensure that the business as an asset is dealt with appropriately within any proceedings.

Pensions

In addition to being able to provide specialised advice in relation to Public Sector pensions our team at Verisona Law has vast knowledge concerning all pension arrangements and can ensure that they are dealt with appropriately within any divorce proceedings. Please seek advice from a member of our team.

Parental Responsibility

We are able to advise on all aspects of Parental Responsibility including:

  • Agreements / Orders
  • Exercising your Parental Responsibility rights and duties where appropriate
  • Arising out of Parental Responsibility we can advise on applications for a Specific Issue Order to the Court if appropriate.

If you have any queries concerning Parental Responsibility and its impact on you or indeed whether you have Parental Responsibility for your children, please seek advice from a member of our team.

Assisting through Mediation

Whilst we do direct a number of matters through Mediation, this does not mean that you cannot have legal advice throughout the process. We can advise and assist you through the Mediation process and arrange thereafter to draw up formally any agreement reached be this by way of a Consent Order in divorce proceedings or simply to record in an open document the agreement you have reached at Mediation concerning the subject of your dispute.

Property Disputes

Whether you are married or otherwise, or indeed simply have an interest in a property owned by another we can provide you with advice and assistance including;

  • Applications to the Court
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising and assisting you face to face, by telephone or by email.

Collaborative Law

This is an alternative way to resolve family disputes without the involvement of the Court. The Collaborative process requires both parties to have a Collaborative Lawyer and endeavours to resolve any disputes by way of four way meetings. We at Verisona Law can assist you through the Collaborative process. If this is an avenue of resolving dispute that you would be interested in, please contact a member of our team.

Children

We at Verisona Law can provide you with advice and guidance concerning any disputes you may have relating to your child. This may be with whom the child lives, with whom the child spends time with, a specific issue concerning a child or steps that you wish to take to prevent something happening (Prohibited Steps Order). We can also advise you in relation to maintenance disputes with a third party guidance with dealing with the Child Maintenance Service. If you have a query with any issue concerning your child please contact a member of our team.

Change of Name

Please contact a member of our team if you are interested in changing your first or surname to discuss the drafting of a Change of Name Deed. We offer a fixed price for a Change of Name and we can provide you with further information upon request.

I went to Verisona Law because I had been unsatisfied with two previous attempts with other firms. Verisona gave that real sense of service, made.me feel like a client they were happy to assist at all times and ultimately gave the BEST advice and guidance. Dont waste money; go to Verisona FIRST!


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