For some same sex couples the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in December 2005 provided a longawaited opportunity for them to gain formal recognition for their relationship and acquire legal rights and responsibilities which were previously available only to those able to marry, in particular the exemption from inheritance tax that previously only benefited spouses.
Twelve months on, the popular press has already started to report the demise of some of the earlier partnerships entered into in the flurry of activity just prior to Christmas 2005. As the relevant legislation is very similar to the divorce code, there are unlikely to be any huge surprises in the financial outcome on the dissolution of a civil partnership, although initially there may be fewer children involved and perhaps there may not necessarily be the same level of financial dependency to be taken into account. Time, and judicial imagination, may, of course, prove otherwise.
There are, however, still tens of thousands of people, who either live together or own property together, for whom neither marriage nor a civil partnership is an option, most significantly people of the opposite sex who either cannot marry or do not want to do so. This large and diverse group also includes young friends struggling to mount the property ladder and family members who live together. Until there is further legislative change (and none is currently in prospect), these people have the choice of either doing nothing and taking their chances, or seeking to regulate their relationship and property ownership in contractual terms. Whilst this may sound rather daunting or heavy handed, it is often a case of 'better safe than sorry'. In practice, a relatively short and simple declaration of trust or cohabitation agreement can provide security and peace of mind, and avoid uncertainty and disagreement at a later date.