NEW Year's Eve was celebrated this year in the UK for another reason. On December 31, 2019 opposite sex couples were able to enter into a civil partnership. The law was changed in October 2018 and the Civil Partnership (Opposite Sex Couples) Regulations 2019 came into force on December 2, 2019. As the minimum notice period for a civil partnership is 28 days and December 2, 2019 was the first day notice could be given, the first opposite sex civil partnerships were entered into on December 31, 2019.

Civil partnerships were first introduced for same sex couples to legally recognise their relationship and for them to receive the same benefits that an opposite sex married couples would. For some, the idea of marriage does not fit in with their personal beliefs and a civil partnership enables a couple to have their relationship formally recognised without vows being exchanged or a conventional ceremony taking place. Those in a civil partnership can enjoy the same tax, pensions and inheritance benefits as those in a marriage can.

Around three million opposite sex couples cohabit but are not married in the UK. They might consider themselves "married by common law" and protected as such but those couples do not have any rights over each other's pensions, savings or financial interests. There is actually no such thing in law as a "common law marriage". Those couples also support around one million children but without the financial security that married couples or same sex civil partners benefit from.

Couples living together but not married or in a civil partnership can formalise their living arrangements through a cohabitation agreement, setting out how they wish to regulate their finances and what their intentions are should they separate. The agreement can protect each party and any children in the event they break up, can save expensive litigation as there is an agreement in place when they separate and reduces the risk of conflict whilst the parties are living together. That said, those 3 million opposite sex couples that are cohabitating but not married now have the option of a civil partnership and to benefit from the rights married couples enjoy. It should be noted that entering into a civil partnership will make the parties existing wills automatically void so new wills should be made.

If you would like to obtain advice from our Family team about civil partnerships contact Andrew Smith or Lilly Grant in our York office, Chris Burns or Sophie Arrowsmith in our Leeds office or Richard Buckley in our Sheffield office.