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.