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The Civil Partnership Act 2004 - 4 years on

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The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (the "Act") passed its fourth anniversary on 5 December 2009. The coming into force of the Act now means that couples of the same sex who wish to have their relationship legally recognised are able to do so. Yet recent statistics show that the number of same sex couples choosing to enter into a civil partnership is falling.

Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics last year show that the number of couples registering civil partnerships in 2008 was 18% lower than for 2007. The reasons for the drop in numbers is unclear, but some commentators are of the view that this is due to there being a "boom" in civil partnership registration when the legislation first came into force, and the figures are now simply evening themselves out. Research carried out in the year after the Act came into force shows that many same sex couples took the opportunity to register civil partnerships as soon as they could, and therefore it was only natural for there to be a decline in the numbers in subsequent years. Other reasons for the decline could be simply that many same sex couples, as with heterosexual couples, are just choosing not to register their relationship. More couples than ever are choosing to live together without the formality of marriage, and there is no reason why a couple of the same sex would not make that decision as well.

The law as it stands affords very limited rights to couples who choose to live together without marrying or entering into a civil partnership. This is seen by many as extremely unfair, particularly when the parties have children, as in the event of relationship breakdown the courts do not have the discretion that they have when determining a financial settlement upon divorce or civil partnership dissolution. Despite recent attempts to change this, it does not appear that the situation is going to change any time soon, and therefore unless a couple wish to formalise their relationship, whether through marriage or civil partnership, the legal protection afforded to them will continue to be extremely limited. The impact of the current law can however be cushioned by the parties entering into either a cohabitation agreement or a separation agreement. If you would like to discuss anything in relation to civil partnerships or cohabitation/separation agreements then please feel free to contact our family team on 0113 222 3241.

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