Reformation or tradition?
  • 24th Feb 2017

Are Civil Partnerships the future for opposite-sex couples as an alternative to marriage? Some heterosexual couples certainly hope so.

Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Kiedan are one such couple. The couple do not want to get married – but the Court of Appeal have refused to overturn a ruling that they do not meet the legal requirement to enter into a Civil Partnership: they are not the same sex.

Civil Partnerships for same sex couples have been possible since 5 December 2005. Since March 2014 such couples also have the option to marry.  They have a choice whereas opposite sex couples do not.

It is the intention of Steinfield and Kiedan to appeal to the Supreme Court. Marriage and Civil Partnership are virtually indistinguishable in the protections offered to each institution by the law. So why would a same-sex couple choose to enter into a Civil Partnership as opposed to a marriage?

Choice appears to be an important component. The Judges at the Court of Appeal said the Government need to look again at Civil Partnerships more holistically and the Government needs time to do so. Furthermore, the Judges commented that the couple’s human rights may have been breached; straight couples are potentially being discriminated against.

But, is the couple’s application a way to get cohabitees the same rights as married couples? As the law currently stands, couples who live together without getting married, do not have the same legal protection as married couples on the breakdown of a relationship or on death. Civil Partnerships do not have the same formalities as entering into a marriage so if a couple simply do not want to be married – this may be a way to align the stark difference in the law in relation to married couples and cohabiting couples. It will be interesting to see if and how the law is reformed in this area.

You may also have seen another case hitting the headlines last week. The Court of Appeal heard an appeal brought by Mrs Owens in an attempt to overturn a decision to refuse her a divorce from her husband.

Mr and Mrs Owens have been married for 39 years. Mrs Owens petitioned on the basis that the marriage had irretrievably broken down as a result of Mr Owens’ unreasonable behaviour. The Judge had refused to allow her divorce on the basis that being unhappy and discontent are not facts which prove irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. Mr Owens does not want out of the marriage and is fighting to ensure that the couple stay married.

This case may seem ridiculous to some. There have been calls for the law to change to allow for a ‘no fault divorce’ – where one spouse can petition without proving fault of the other spouse.  So far, those calls have not been answered. As a family solicitor, I often see clients who simply say that they want a divorce and surely that is enough? Unfortunately, it is not.

We are awaiting the Court of Appeal judgement in the Owens case.  What will they decide?  Just a few days ago the Government confirmed to the House of Lords that they have no plans to reform divorce law and no plans for a ‘no fault divorce’, despite a recent poll suggesting that 69% of people support a ‘no fault divorce.’

It will be interesting to see which laws will be reformed and which will not and how that will impact people’s lives in modern day society.