Government urged to deliver promise of heterosexual civil partnerships

22 January 2019, 05:06 | Updated: 22 January 2019, 07:18

Campaigners who successfully fought for civil partnerships to be extended to heterosexual couples say the government should deliver on its promise to act.

The call comes as research for the British Social Attitudes Survey shows 46% of people wrongly think that living together in England and Wales gives them the same legal status as a married couple.

The number of cohabiting couples more than doubled between 1996 and 2017 to 3.3 million but lawyers warn that so-called common law marriage gives no general legal rights.

The prime minister said in October 2018 that the government would extend the right to enter a civil partnership, which gives legal rights to each partner, to everyone.

The announcement followed a supreme court ruling that restricting them to gay couples is discriminatory.

Campaigners Joanna Christina and Stephen Anderson, who say marriage is outdated and not for them, say the government should act quickly to help people confused about the law.

"While on the one hand I appreciate that everybody is very busy with Brexit, life does go on," she said.

The couple have lived together for 30 years, but Stephen was diagnosed with cancer six years ago.

"We do want a resolution to this... Stephen's not well and we want to have a civil partnership while we can," she said.

Graeme Frazer of Resolution Family Law said if unmarried couples split up the consequences can be serious.

"People are left in terrible situations," he said.

"It's the vulnerable who are particularly affected, particularly women with children who find themselves with very little rights after many years."

Anne Barlow, professor of family law and policy at the University of Exeter, which conducted the survey, said policy has failed to keep up with the times.

"The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children," she said.

"It's absolutely crucial that we raise awareness of the difference between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage and any differences in rights that come with each."