Friends could 'Marry' under civil partnership act, according to leading Yorkshire Lawyer

Friends using the Civil Partnership Act

01.12.2006

Twelve months on since the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act, a leading Yorkshire lawyer is claiming platonic friends could also be taking advantage of the benefits enjoyed by civil partners.

Alison Straw, head of the family team with national law firm Irwin Mitchell at its offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said since the introduction of the Act on December 5, 2005, there has been nothing to stop platonic, same-sex friends taking advantage bending the rules in order to benefit from the almost equal treatment received by married couples. This includes inheritance tax advantages, the right to claim pension benefits and even recognition under intestacy rules where one partner dies without leaving a will.

Mrs Straw, said: "From a legal perspective, there is nothing to say you must consummate a civil partnership so there's actually nothing to stop platonic friends entering into a civil partnership, or what really constitutes a marriage of convenience, in order to exploit the loopholes for their own financial security."

According to Mrs Straw, so long as the couple are not immediately related - sisters, for example - there is nothing to stop them.

Despite the Civil Partnership Act being introduced to recognise those people in same sex relationships, one group still remains excluded from benefiting from the legal rights both married and civil partners receive and that is co-habitees.

According to Mrs Straw, there is often confusion amongst co-habiting couples as to what their entitlements are.

She said: "I've had a number of clients who, when filling out forms, tick the civil partners box when in fact they're in a heterosexual relationship, but living together.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding amongst co-habiting couples as to what their rights are. Many believe they have the same entitlement as married or even civil partners, but in fact, the common law husband and wife is a complete myth and often it's not until the partnership breaks down that they realise that they have no claim to each others assets."

However, according to Mrs Straw, new legislation could be on its way within the next two years as the Law Commission, the independent body set up by Parliament to review and recommend reform of the law in England and Wales, is recommending that all co-habiting couples benefit from the same rights as married couples.

Mrs Straw said: "The latest published research shows 25 per cent of non-married people in England are cohabiting. This is a large chunk of the population who live together but have absolutely no solid rights if the relationship breaks down in the same way as a marriage, which ends in divorce or dissolution in the case of a civil partnership.

"On the flip side. Some couples chose not to marry because of the legal binds and this new legislation would mean they have to specifically opt out and go to the expense of drawing up legal papers to reflect this."

With one year having now passed since civil partnerships were introduced, Mrs Straw believes we may now start to see the first dissolutions, similar to divorce, taking place.

She said: "By law, at least 12 months must pass from the date of the partnership before an application for dissolution can be made. With divorce rates for married couples standing at one in three, unfortunately, I'm sure it won't be too long before we see the beginnings of breakdowns of civil partnerships too."

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