Following a Supreme Court ruling in England, the law now (from 31 December 2019) allows mixed sex couples to be able to enter into a civil partnership. Previously, only same sex couples were able to enter into a civil partnership. Both same sex couples and opposite sex couples can enter into a marriage (and this has now been the law for some time).
If you are in a mixed sex relationship and have made Wills, and decide to form a civil partnership now that the law has changed, any Wills made previously will be invalidated by the civil partnership, unless the Wills were made in expectation of that civil partnership. This is obviously the same legal position as a same sex couple making Wills.
It is therefore important for anyone entering into either a marriage or a civil partnership to keep in mind that a civil partnership or a marriage revokes any previous Wills made by them, unless the Wills are made in contemplation of that civil partnership or marriage. So, Wills can be made by a couple shortly before a marriage or civil partnership in expectation of that event, or they can get married or enter into a civil partnership and subsequently make Wills.
If a couple are in a relationship and do not make Wills or enter into a marriage or a civil partnership, but are simply in a relationship (whether living together or not), rights to inherit by the survivor following the death of one of the parties to the relationship will be limited and there is a risk, depending on circumstances, that the surviving partner (not to be confused with civil partner) will not inherit anything at all. Even if a couple are in a marriage or a civil partnership, making Wills is still very important to set out exact wishes on both the first and second deaths. It is also vital that they are updated regularly, too.
It is important to note that a civil partnership is not an automatic legal process for a couple together long term (whether in a same sex or a mixed sex relationship). It is a legal arrangement that both parties enter into. A civil partnership is certainly not the same as a common law marriage, the latter simply being a term describing a relationship between a cohabiting couple living together. Parties to a relationship who are living together long term but not in a marriage or a civil partnership do have the option of making a cohabitation agreement but this is not the same thing as a common law marriage either.
Every case, of course, depends on its own circumstances so always take legal advice from a trusted professional about your own set of circumstances.
This article was written on 31 December 2019 and the law may change following this date.
Richard Tinkler is an Associate Solicitor based at the Helliwell House office in Wroxham. Capron & Helliwell offer a fixed fee first appointment for family law matters - for details or to book an appointment please contact Dawn Pennell on 01692 581231.
This article aims to supply general information but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek specific advice.