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Relationship Equality

Yesterday, that is, on 1 January 2020, civil partnerships became available to heterosexual couples.

This means that to enter into a relationship involving promises (and let’s not forget of course, legal implications) heterosexual couples have a choice. As well as having the option to marry, heterosexual couples can alternatively enter into civil partnerships.

Until now civil partnership has been the province of same-sex couples. But for varying reasons, sometimes of principle and sometimes personal, some heterosexual couples have wanted the option of electing not to marry, but to enter a civil partnership instead.

Civil partnership was introduced to enable committed same-sex couples to enter into covenants and commitments equivalent to those available on marriage. This gave same-sex couples the recognition and rights that married couples already benefitted from, for example in inheritance, and in terms of being one another’s next of kin. This also afforded separating couples the claims and responsibilities that married couples have, in the context of divorce or separation.

Civil partnership was introduced (under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, taking effect in December 2005) specifically to give same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into a legal relationship akin to marriage. However, marriage itself was opened up to same-sex couples (under the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Act 2013) and came into effect in March 2014. The legislation however did not end the existence of civil partnership as an option and so this left same-sex couples with the choice of both civil partnership and marriage.

Introducing civil partnership of heterosexual couples evens this out so that both same-sex and heterosexual couples have both options available to them.

For some this is just a difference of the name. It can be important to note, for example, that legally, a married couple cannot refer to themselves as civil partners and neither can civil partners refer to themselves as married. But the rights and responsibilities conferred are comparable.

The same cannot be said of cohabiting couples who are neither civil partners, nor married to one another. This is a far greater proportion of the population than heterosexual partners who seek a civil partnership, but little has been done to address the fact that cohabiting couples have very little protection or recognition of their relationship in law. With the dawn of a new decade, hopefully the work of organisations like Resolution* to inform and seek to address the hardships that can arise for cohabiting couples, will be given legislative attention.

If you wish to speak with Tanya or Richard, our specialist family law solicitors, in confidence, please contact us on tel 01622 23 88 54, or by email at

*Resolution is the association of family law practitioners, previously known as the Solicitors’ Family Law Association. More information about their work in this area can be found here.

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