Civil partnerships to be extended to opposite-sex couples

Theresa May has announced today that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will now be able to choose whether to enter into a civil partnership rather than get married.

The intention is to provide greater security for unmarried couples and their families to address the “imbalance” that allows same-sex couples to enter into both civil partnerships or get married.

A consultation will now follow on the technical details but Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt promised that the change in the law would happen “as swiftly as possible”

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London firm OGR Stock Denton commented as follows:

“Today’s news means that modern family types outside marriage for heterosexual couples are being recognised by the State. Tax advantages, pension rights and welfare benefits previously provided only to married couples will now be extended to those heterosexual couples choosing to enter into civil partnerships rather than marriage.

“This is not a panacea for the millions of couples who choose not to have their relationship formalised by the state. While civil partnerships work well when both parties are in an equally committed long-term relationship, it can never cater for relationships where one party is more committed than the other and one partner is left financially and legally vulnerable when the relationship breaks down.

“I express concern that the ideal of formalised relationships for all may be seen as an opportunity to remove cohabitation from the political agenda despite the vulnerability that will continue to exist for many.

“It is vitally important for basic protections to be extended to unmarried couples and new legislation would offer the perfect opportunity to achieve this. This would herald real change to the lives of all who choose not to marry.”

New Bill promises guaranteed leave allowance for bereaved parents

A Bill presented to Parliament recently promises to give bereaved parents guaranteed paid leave for a minimum of two weeks following the death of a child aged under 18 years old.

Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake, has introduced the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill with support from the Government . The plans will now be considered by Parliament and it is anticipated that they will enter into law in 2020.

Under the plans, employees will be entitled to leave from their first day in employment, while those with 26 weeks or more continuous service will be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay.

Hayley Trovato, a Senior Associate at OGR Stock Denton LLP, said: “This new law will give all employed parents the right to 2 weeks leave if they lose a child under 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employed parents will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to the meeting the eligibility criteria.

“There is currently no right for statutory paid time off for parents suffering a bereavement. Currently under the Employment Rights Act 1996 employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an emergency to do with a dependant, this includes making arrangements following the death of a dependant.

“However what is reasonable depends on the circumstances and the practical reality is that the length of time an employee can have off is what can be agreed between the employer and the employee.

“The employer does not need to pay the employee for this time off but many employers do offer paid compassionate leave.

“The loss of a child is the most unimaginable trauma for any parent, this new law recognises this and provides grieving parents with support allowing them time to come to terms with their loss without the fear or pressure of having to return to work too early.”

Divorce poised to become less confrontational

Details of a Government consultation on no-fault divorce have just emerged which should improve the process of divorce going forwards.

David Gauke, the justice secretary is expected to launch the consultation shortly. He previously acknowledged that the argument for reforming divorce is “strong”

Under current law, to obtain a divorce either spouse must prove fault through adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or if both spouses agree after two years of separation. If there is no consent or evidence of fault, the applicant must wait until the couple have been living apart for five years.

It is estimated that two thirds of divorcing couples use one of the fault grounds, and family lawyers have long understood that this commonly increases acrimony for the family during an already stressful time.

The issue came to the fore in July when the Supreme Court ruled that in her case, 68 year old Tini Owens could not divorce her husband until a period of five years’ separation had elapsed in 2020, thus trapping her in an unhappy loveless marriage.

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London firm OGR Stock Denton LLP is a member of Resolution’s Family Law Reform Group, which is spearheading the campaign to modernise family law. He comments:

“This news could prove to be the catalyst for long overdue divorce law reform in England and Wales. Removing blame from the process would hugely assist couples in their attempts to resolve matters avoiding needless conflict and damage to family relationships. The government urgently needs to introduce measures to improve the divorce process and modernise family law”.

The experienced and specialist Family Law team at OGR Stock Denton LLP can deal rapidly with all queries in relation to separation and divorce in order to resolve matters as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Supreme Court judgement due on rights of bereaved cohabitants

The Supreme Court is to rule on Thursday 30 August 2018 on the case of a woman who has been denied bereavement payments following the death of her partner of 23 years.

Siobhan McLaughlin, aged 46, had four children with her partner, John Adams, but when he died in 2014, she was denied a £2,000 lump sum bereavement payment as well as a weekly widowed parent allowance, which could have been worth up to £118 a week.

Explaining their decision not to marry, Ms McLaughlin said: “It was never an issue. I naively thought that the longer you were together as a couple the more rights you had.

“Our four children had their dad’s name; to me, it was just a ring and a bit of paper – the commitment was the same.”

The Supreme Court will rule on whether the terms of the current social security regulations, which have denied Ms McLaughlin a pay-out, are at odds with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2017, it allowed a similar appeal relating to access to local Government pensions for surviving cohabitants in the case of Denise Brewster.

This latest case comes shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that opposite-sex and same-sex partners should have the same entitlement to Civil Partnerships following a challenge by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld who argued that “civil partnerships are a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage”.

Last year Jakki Smith, an NHS worker, won a landmark battle for greater legal recognition for bereaved unmarried couples at the Court of Appeal. However, despite the occasional court victory, many cohabiting couples are left with nothing, following the death of their partner.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of cohabiting households has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017.

Boost for unfairly treated former partners and families

The government has today confirmed their commitment to improve enforcement of financial remedy orders made on divorce.

Although financial remedy orders enable wealth to be more fairly distributed on divorce, they have limited effect when the money rewarded to the less wealthy spouse and can in certain circumstances lead to significant hardship for them and their dependent children. In 2016, the Law Commission found that the law was too complicated and sometimes ineffective.

Measures to improve the enforcement system are being brought forward by the government and further future reform is being considered.

Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins said:

“These reforms will help to prevent serious hardship that some face when debtors refuse to pay, and I’m pleased Government is taking action to help those most in need”.

Many individuals who don’t have legal representation find the current law difficult.

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London law firm OGR Stock Denton commented:

“It’s good news that the government have decided to act. The current law is badly in need of reform.

In the meantime, if you are owed money, there are useful practical steps that can be taken to ensure that debtors pay including the freezing of assets in the debtor’s business and getting the debt paid by the debtor’s employer at source from their wages. Instructing bailiffs can also be effective as a means of seizing valuable items such as the debtor’s car.

Good strategic advice from a specialist family solicitor during the negotiation can also ensure that the award is paid by secured means to avoid such difficulties arising in the first place.”

If you have any queries relating to ensuring that an existing order is paid and proposed changes to the process and how this affects you, please contact a member of the Family Team at OGR Stock Denton.

Cohabiting in the UK – What does this mean for your rights

There are more than six million cohabiting couples in the UK right now and that number is rapidly rising.

Millions of cohabiting households will have children together or share a mortgage, yet have nothing in place to protect their property or finances should they split up. A break-up could be messy and end up costing the parties huge costs and risk individuals losing everything they thought they had..

In a recent report, 1,000 couples were asked why they had no protection in place, with over a third saying they trusted their partner would give them a financial contribution.  Trust and romance is wonderful – until there is a break up!

There also appears to be a general misunderstanding of what rights people have, with many assuming they are automatically entitled to their fair share if the relationship breaks down.  They could not be more wrong.

With the average UK house price around the £227.000 mark, not putting protective measures in place could cause significant financial problems later down the line should the relationship not work out.

What are your rights?

The legal system in England and Wales treats unmarried couples as separate individuals, meaning in the event of a split, any assets remain in the ownership of the person whose name they are in.

Assets in joint names will be divided equally unless there is clear evidence that the parties have agreed on something else This is also the case for any shared property. Much depends on intentions and can be difficult to prove.

In addition to restricted property rights, unmarried couples do not enjoy the same rights as spouses regarding death or financial arrangements such as maintenance.  There is no right to maintenance for a co-habitee unlike a spouse.

If one co-habitee dies while living together, the other has no entitlement unless there is a will in place.

The only good news relates to children.  Maintenance is payable by the non-resident parent through the Child Maintenance service in the same way whether the parents are married or not.  However property and capital provision for children is more limited.

What protection is there available?

The solution to all these problems is simple.  A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract for unmarried couples, which covers everything from who owns what, to how you will divide assets in the event of a split and also any child arrangements. If a property is being purchased, a declaration of trust should always be prepared to define the cohabitant’s shares in the property. It is particularly important for cohabitants to make Wills because if there is no Will in place, the surviving cohabitant will have no entitlement at all.

For more information about cohabitation agreements, please contact our family law team today.