The Prime Minister, Theresa May has announced today that straight couples are to be extended the same rights as gay couples to enter into a civil partnership. Gay and straight couples should have the right to make the same choices in life says Mrs May.
So what does this mean in practice for straight couples? It means couples now have two ways to formalise their commitment to each other which is the traditional marriage route or entering into a civil partnership. It gives a couple the same legal rights as a wedded couple in terms of taxation reliefs and exemptions, state benefits and inheritance.
It will also give straight couples access to the same legislation as married couples if the relationship breaks down and where a couple cannot agree a financial settlement. The legal reliefs available to a divorcing couple are much wider than for cohabiting couples who cannot claim against each other’s pensions or claim spousal maintenance. Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as a common law marriage. Many believe that after a period of living together they acquire the same legal rights as a married couple in the event of separation. This is a myth.
The rights of cohabiting couples are still very restricted and if you don’t have a cohabitation agreement in place, you could be losing out if you separate. A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract which sets out how you want to share your income and assets on separation and the arrangements that you want for your children. If you want to better protect your rights and entitlement and the traditional wedding route is not for you, a civil partnership might be the answer.
Cohabitation is over taking marriage as a way of life for many families. However, there are lots of couples out there don’t feel the need to have a formal ceremony to recognise their commitment to each other. However, Theresa May’s initiative does not solve the problem for cohabiting couples when it comes to taxation, death and separation. More needs to be done by the Government to bring the law into line with society and how many of us currently live. Legal change for cohabiting couples is now long overdue. This is an opportunity for the Government to give equal rights to couples gay or straight and however they choose to commit and live.
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