More a case of marriage-exit than Brexit

Divorce rates have gone down. It’s official. The cynic in me says this doesn’t mean that people are much happier in their married states, but that some may be making the best of it and riding the economic disquiet until they are older and wiser. Yes-divorce rates are not reducing for the over 55s.

Theresa May has announced that mixed sex couples will now have the right to enter into civil partnerships. This follows the landmark case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who went to court demanding the right for a mixed sex civil partnership. The couple had to go all the way to the Supreme Court before winning their case.

Civil partnerships were previously only available to same sex couples and were initially introduced to provide them with the same legal rights as married couples when equal marriage remained illegal. Once same sex marriage became legal in 2014, it meant homosexual couples had the choice between marriage and civil partnerships, while heterosexual couples could only marry.

Whilst confusion surrounds our on/off relationship with Europe, this major (and inevitable) change in the law has brought us closer to our French cousins, who have had the right to civil partnerships since 1999. The pacte civil de solidarité, known as the Pacs, allows same sex and mixed sex couples to enter into civil partnerships equally.

While the Pacs is not the same as marriage in terms of legal and inheritance benefits, it does provide significant tax benefits and provides a legal contract for two people sharing their lives together. Moreover, a couple who enter into a Pacs – known as a pacsé couple do not even need to be in a romantic relationship.

However, those who fear for the state of marriage in the UK shouldn’t panic yet. Marriage still seems to be the most popular choice for couples in France. While 184,000 Pacs were recorded in 2016, there were 225,000 marriages.

Moreover, a number of couples see a Pacs as a first step towards marriage. In 2008, 40 per cent of Pacs which were dissolved in France were done so in order that the couple could then marry. This would be the equivalent of a couple in the UK preferring a civil partnership over a pre-marriage Agreement, and then applying to dissolve the civil partnership to be able to get married. This could be a very savvy way forward, as although pre-marriage Agreements are strong evidence to be relied upon (when drafted and executed properly), a civil partnership would provide a clear level of automatic legal entitlement which could be pursued further, as is the case with the rights conferred by  marriage.

We, as lawyers, can help you make the dissolution process as economically palatable as possible. It could be more expensive than the drafting of a pre-marriage Agreement, not least as there is currently a Court fee of £550 for a dissolution application.

The civil partnership will not, in itself, clarify all areas of a potential or anticipated financial settlement upon an ultimate break down of the relationship. A related matrimonial financial Consent Order would address this need, the same having been utilised in divorce for some time and in same sex civil partnerships for several years now.

Finally, on this quirky note, the Courts are continuing to take a considerable amount of time to process and approve anything of substance in divorce and civil partnership cases. As such, if the route of civil partnership and then marriage was adopted, it would be prudent not to set a wedding date until the dissolution had been finally ordered! No such problem would exist with a pre-marriage Agreement and then marriage of course.  Options. Choice. Dilemmas.

Cordial entente or not, the Family team at Bennett Griffin are here to listen and help you make the right decisions for you and your family.

 

Jacqueline Mensah

Associate and Collaborative Family Lawyer

Bennett Griffin LLP

 

Please note this article does not constitute legal advice.