In future, in England and Wales, a man and a woman who live together will be able to form a civil partnership as an alternative to getting married.
There are more than three million such cohabiting couples, but under the law as it now stands they have none of the rights of married couples, no matter how long they have been together and even if they have children.
There is no such thing as a “common law” marriage as many still believe.
A civil partnership will give a couple the same rights as if they were married, but without the patri-archal baggage that many see in the tradition of marriage.
The financial advantages last throughout their relationship.
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If one pays tax and the other does not, then the marriage allowance is worth up to £238 a year for the tax-paying partner.
In England and Wales, when an unmarried couple split up they have no rights to each other’s property. A married couple who divorce normally split their property, money and pensions equally. Forming a civil partnership will bring those same rights.
On death, a married or civil partnered person can leave their entire estate to their spouse or partner without incurring inheritance tax. That is particularly important if they share a home that’s worth more than the current inheritance tax allowance (called the “nil rate band”) of £325,000.
The survivor in an unmarried couple may have to sell their home to pay the tax, so forming a civil partnership would avoid that problem.
If the survivor is below state pension age they will normally get a bereavement support payment, worth a total of £4,300 – or £9,800 if there are dependent children. It is not paid to a bereaved partner who just lived with the deceased person.
Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt said the law will be changed soon, but there will first be a consultation to sort out the legal issues.
The Scottish government is already consulting on change. In Northern Ireland there is currently no government so a change cannot be considered until the political impasse there is resolved.