Civil partnerships for heterosexual couples; who needs one?

Heterosexual couple Jimmy Pierce, 30, and Laura Cochrane, 25 are expecting their first baby and want to formalise their relationship, but not with a wedding. They want a civil partnership, which is currently only available to same-sex couples.

Weddng cake toppersCharles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld were so upset that they could not have a civil partnership that they have taken their case to the High Court on the grounds that the law on civil partnership “discriminates against long-term cohabiting opposite-sex couples.”


At the heart of the issue is each couple’s objection to the institution of marriage, as Pierce explained in an interview with The Telegraph:
“We both object to marriage as an institution. I consider it historically oppressive and smothered in sexism. It’s symbolically associated with religion and patriarchy and we don’t want that cultural baggage… There’s also an automatic assumption you’ll adopt the groom’s name. It didn’t feel right.” 

Civil Partnership Conversion

This viewpoint runs counter to the perception of thousands of same sex couples that are actively choosing marriage over civil partnership status. Indeed, more same sex couples have chosen to convert their civil partnership to a marriage than have actually got married since the legislation came into force. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, 7,732 couples converted their existing civil partnership into a marriage between 10 December 2014 (when first available) and 30 June 2015. This compares with 7,366 same sex marriages conducted between 29 March 2014 and 30 June 2015.


Civil Partnership choices  

Civil partnerships were introduced to allow same-sex couples for formalise their relationship and give it legal status on a par with heterosexual marriage. Only when same-sex marriage was made legal did same-sex couples have a choice as to how to formalise their relationship. 

Heterosexual couples have always had the choice between a religious wedding ceremony officiated by clergy, or a civil wedding ceremony officiated by a registrar.


Who would benefit from a heterosexual civil partnership? 

Some campaigners argue that heterosexual civil partnerships would allow couples living together to legally formalise their relationship. At present, cohabiting couples have considerably fewer rights than married couples, and hence there is limited financial protection if they split up. (Many couples still fail to realise that there is no such thing as a “common law” husband or wife, and therefore no legal status to their relationship.) 


Currently, cohabiting couples can enter into a cohabitation contract (living together agreement) that lay out the rights and obligations of each partner. However, these are not legally binding.


Heterosexual civil partnerships abroad

Civil partnerships are currently available to heterosexual couples in The Netherlands, alongside marriage and a more formal structure for cohabitation agreements. As the Dutch government website explains:


“(A cohabitation agreement) is a written agreement settling certain matters relating to living together. It is sensible to have a notary draw up an official contract. In some cases, you may need a notarised cohabitation agreement in order to qualify for certain benefits such as partner pension schemes and fringe benefits.”

Would cohabiting couples actually choose a civil partnership?

Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld have set up a Change.org petition calling for “Open civil partnerships for all”, which currently has approaching 35,000 signatures. On the petition webpage they state:

“Opening civil partnerships to all would bring the law up to date with the reality of family life: 3 million cohabiting couples with 1.8 million dependent children, all of whom currently lack the protection of marriage and choice of civil partnership… We want to raise our child as equal partners and feel that a civil partnership – a modern, symmetrical institution – sets the best example for her.”

The question remains, however, as to how many of those cohabiting couples would actually choose to enter into a formal, legal partnership, given that they already have the option of a civil, non-religious wedding and have chosen not to do this. 
The evidence suggests around 10% might. In The Netherlands, 11% of heterosexual couples chose to have a civil partnership rather than a marriage or a cohabiting agreement Equally, in the UK, 17% of gay couples opted for a civil partnership since the legalisation of same-sex marriage.


Concerned over your relationship status?

If you have concerns over your legal status in a relationship and want to discuss your options, do call us. We are experienced family lawyers who have helped hundreds of couples, with or without children, to make the right decision for them, from pre-nups and cohabitation agreements to civil partnership dissolution and divorce. Call us to book your free 30-minute appointment – we are here to help.