The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - MONEY - Lauren David­son

More peo­ple should be al­lowed to ben­e­fit from ‘spousal’ priv­i­leges

Five years af­ter same-sex cou­ples se­cured the right to marry, op­po­site-sex cou­ples have won the right not to. In June the Supreme Court unan­i­mously agreed, in the case of Re­becca Ste­in­feld and Charles Kei­dan, that al­low­ing gay cou­ples but not straight cou­ples to en­ter into civil part­ner­ships was in­com­pat­i­ble with the Eu­ro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights. The Supreme Court can­not make laws, though, and so the fate of those who did not wish to marry was left un­de­ter­mined.

Theresa May has now launched a con­sul­ta­tion into how civil part­ner­ships can be ex­tended to in­clude op­po­site-sex cou­ples.

This will come as wel­come news to mil­lions of Britons who live, to all in­tents and pur­poses, as hus­band and wife – they may have shared fi­nances, chil­dren, a home – but don’t want to get mar­ried.

Take “sil­ver split­ters”. While the num­ber of di­vorces has plunged in re­cent decades to its low­est level since 1973, the pro­por­tion of mar­ried cou­ples aged 55-plus who are go­ing their sep­a­rate ways has more than dou­bled. With prop­er­ties, pen­sions and off­spring to con­sider – not to men­tion the ris­ing cost of di­vorce – it doesn’t take much imag­i­na­tion to un­der­stand why this boom­ing group might not want to re­marry. More than half of peo­ple who en­ter civil part­ner­ships are over 50, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics.

Then there are those cou­ples who dis­like the in­sti­tu­tional bag­gage of mar­riage (Ms Ste­in­feld and Mr Kei­dan re­jected what they called its “his­tor­i­cally pa­tri­ar­chal na­ture”; to this day mar­riage cer­tifi­cates re­quire the names of the fa­thers of the par­ties but not the moth­ers).

There are also those who don’t want to make prom­ises to each other (“for­mal word­ing” is a nec­es­sary part of a mar­riage cer­e­mony but civil part­ners don’t need to ex­change vows).

What­ever the rea­son for their choice, there are 3.3 mil­lion co­hab­it­ing cou­ples in the UK (of whom around 1.2 mil­lion have chil­dren), who have been left at a fi­nan­cial dis­ad­van­tage. Sarah Coles of Har­g­reaves Lans­down, an in­vest­ment firm, es­ti­mated that a typ­i­cal cou­ple mar­ried for 50 years could be £190,000 bet­ter off than a cou­ple who had never tied the knot – even ac­count­ing for the £27,000 av­er­age cost of a wed­ding.

This is be­cause there are many perks ex­tended to mar­ried cou­ples and civil part­ners. A per­son on a low in­come can pass £1,190 of their per­sonal tax-free al­lowance to their higher-earn­ing spouse, cut­ting their tax bill by £238 a year. Wed­ded folk can also trans­fer as­sets to a low­erearn­ing spouse who ben­e­fits from higher tax-free thresh­olds when it comes to div­i­dend in­come, cap­i­tal gains and sav­ings, and can con­tribute to each other’s Isas and pen­sions, which come with fur­ther tax re­lief.

Death brings per­haps the great­est ben­e­fit ex­tended to mar­ried cou­ples and civil part­ners. Spouses are pro­tected if their part­ner dies with­out a will, and they also take

Charles Kei­dan and Re­becca Ste­in­feld on the day the Supreme Court agreed that they should be al­lowed to en­ter a civil part­ner­ship

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