Under current laws heterosexual couples are prevented in the UK from becoming civil partners, but the government is now under pressure to change the law after a recent Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 discriminated against heterosexual couples and was therefore incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘There is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’ in English law,’ explains Fiona Yellowlees, Family Partner at WBW Solicitors, ‘So couples who are married or in a civil partnership are recognised as next of kin and have greater rights and legal and financial protection if one partner dies or the relationship breaks down, than those who just live together.’

Civil partnerships were designed to give same-sex couples the same protection in law and rights to property, pensions and inheritance as heterosexual couples. There are, however, a couple of differences between marriage and a civil partnership.

Civil partners are not allowed to call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes and they cannot have their ceremony conducted in church. It must instead be carried out by a registrar and must not contain any religious content, including any hymns or readings from the bible.

Couples are also not allowed to use adultery as a reason to dissolve a civil partnership, although this is a ground for divorce for married couples. However, the infidelity must be with a member of the opposite sex to count as adultery.

If you are thinking about formalising your relationship with your partner – whether through marriage or civil partnership – you could benefit from speaking to a family law expert who can guide you through your new legal rights and explain your responsibilities and financial entitlements in the event of a break up.

If you want to protect your individual business interests or other assets when your domestic living arrangements change, a family lawyer can also help you draw up a cohabitation agreement or a prenuptial agreement to give you greater peace of mind going forward.

For a confidential discussion about any aspect of family law contact Fiona Yellowlees at WBW Solicitors on 01626 202 404 or email lawyer@wbw.co.uk.