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A step in the right direction to end the decade

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Like many others, I very much welcomed the news that the first heterosexual couple; Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, had entered into a civil partnership following last year's ruling by the Supreme Court. After a five year struggle, the ruling led to an extension of the right for mixed-sex couples to be granted civil partnerships the same as those granted to homosexual couples since 2004.

As a family lawyer I frequently have had to advise an unmarried relationship that, despite the fact that their relationship may have lasted for many years and they may have children, upon separation they do not have any of the rights as married couples, such as potentially extensive financial claims against their former partner.  That there is such a thing as a common law husband or wife is one of the most frequent, and most unfounded beliefs that I have the misfortune of having to dispel.

That being so, when in it became possible for same-sex couples to marry or to enter into a civil partnership, it seemed deeply unjust to me, and to Rebecca and Charles, that a heterosexual couple were not entitled to such rights. For many who wish not to enter into marriage, they are left with only limited rights and entitlements when it comes to property ownership and inheritance rights in the event of the other's death, all of which could be protected if a civil partnership is granted. 

The anticipation is that many thousands of couples will take advantage of this change in the law, which will give rights that include the ability to access the family court's extensive powers to share property, savings, income and pensions. Significantly the welfare of any children the couple may have, which the family court considers to be a paramount consideration, is properly and adequately protected.

At the end of its second decade this truly is a significant step towards the law acknowledging and adapting to the changing nature of relationships and family dynamics in the 21st century; something which family lawyers encounter every day. What will hopefully follow this year is a change to the divorce and partnership dissolution process that will allow couples to end their marriage or civil partnership in a way that is seen as fair and reasonable in 2020, and not what was seen to be so almost 50 years ago.