Civil partnerships were introduced following a piece of legislation (The Civil Partnership Act) that was made law in 2004.

There was a lot of coverage in the media last week about a case brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan against the UK Government that reached the Supreme Court. Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan succeeded in arguing that the existing law on Civil Partnerships was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, when the Supreme Court Judges handed down their judgement on the 27th June 2018.

It created a formal legal connection between couples of the same sex, which was virtually identical to that of the institution of marriage. Apart from some nuanced exceptions relating to administrative formalities, the only main difference between the two is when a civil partner applies for a dissolution of their civil partnership (the equivalent to a divorce with a marriage), the ground for adultery does not apply.

Since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was enacted, same sex couples are now able to marry (and therefore divorce). However not only were existing civil partnerships not automatically converted across to become marriages, new civil partnerships could still be entered into. Consequently same sex couples have a choice of entering into a civil partnership or a marriage; but heterosexual couples are only permitted by law to marry.

It was this distinction that Mr Keidan and Ms Steinfeld argued was an infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically that it constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and was an infringement of their right to respect for private and family life. Mr Keidan and Ms Steinfeld are said to have a “conscientious objection” to marriage and wanted to cement their relationship in a civil partnership.

It will remain to be seen whether the Government and Parliament will amend the law in respect of civil partnerships. Often we find that Human Rights challenges through the Courts do result in some form of redress from the Government. What will not change is the fact that when marriages and civil partnerships break down, the procedure to obtain a divorce or a dissolution is very similar although it is often better to obtain professional assistance if at all possible, certainly with regard to any financial disputes.

We are instructed by clients at any stage of a relationship breakdown. For further information please contact us on 0121 233 2042.

William Ham

Solicitor and Head of the Family Department