Marriage and civil partnerships give those concerned rights during the life of a relationship and during divorce that are currently not available to those who choose not to formalise their relationship.
Marriage and divorce
Marriage used to be a union between two persons of the opposite sex formalised by the state. It now embraces a union between a same sex couple. It gives both parties legal rights that are not enjoyed by couples either of the opposite sex or same sex who choose to live together as cohabitees. Marriage also gives couples getting divorced rights not applicable to those who have not formalised their union.
To end a marriage one person has to demonstrate the marriage has irretrievally broken down for one of five reasons for divorce also known as grounds for divorce. In practise you can just state that your partner has is guilty of 'unreasonable behaviour'. This statement wil effectively never be challenged.
Civil partnerships and 'divorce'
A civil partnership between a same sex couple gives them equal treatment in a wide range of legal matters similar to married people. Those who wish to enter a civil partnership have to give notice and can get ‘partnered’ at a registered office or other approved premise – in the same way as couples who wish to marry.
Dissolution of a civil partnership, as in marriage, can only be effected if the union has lasted for a year. Similarly, a petition has to be applied for and valid reasons for wishing to end the union and to show that the partnership has broken down irretrievably. Any children involved have to be covered by a Statement of Arrangements which decides financial responsibility for children and where they will live just as in a divorce.
It is a common misconception that couples living together without being married (or partnered) enjoy the same rights as those who are. They do not. However, such couples can draw up their own contracts with a solicitor which can outline some of the rights and obligations of each partner toward the other. They may not be enforceable but they can serve as a reminder of intent.
‘Common law’ wives or husbands have NO legal recognition at present. Either party can leave the union with no recourse to the law. Even if you have lived with someone for many years and have children together this is not enough to guarantee a share in the house in which you live nor to any form of maintenance if the relationship ends or one partner dies.
There are also significant differences to inheritance rights, exemptions from inheritance tax and pensions. It is vital that unmarried couples make wills that stipulate what they wish to happen to their property on death.