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This Briefing provides background reading to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) (Sibling Couples) Bill [HL]. By virtue of clause 1(2) of the Bill, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA) would be amended to insert a new section 1A to include two persons who are considered to be a sibling couple. By virtue of Clause 1(3), sibling couples would be made up of either brothers, sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters, both of whom would need to be aged over 30 years. To be eligible to register as civil partners, they would also need to have lived together for a continuous period of twelve years immediately prior to the date of registration. The Bill also provides for supplementary regulations to be made with respect to determining whether two siblings (as defined by the Bill) have lived together for the period of twelve years specified in section 1A. The Bill would extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 51 percent of respondents to the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2008 thought that unmarried couples who live together for some time probably or definitely had a ‘common law marriage’ which gives them the same legal rights as married couples. However, this is a “myth” and there is no recognition as a ‘common law’ wife or husband. The law provides a “full array” of remedies to people who are married, or since 2005, have formed a civil partnership. It has been argued that for cohabitants “the law is a patchwork of remedies and lacks the cohesion of the law relating to spouses or civil partners”. According to the ONS, the fastest growing family type over the 20-year period was the cohabiting couple family (those not married nor in a civil partnership), which more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. In Scotland, under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, cohabitants (opposite sex and same sex couples) may make limited claims against each other in the event of their relationship terminating or on the death of one cohabitant, but they do not have the same rights as married couples and civil partners. In Northern Ireland, cohabitants have legal protection in some areas. However, they and their families have fewer rights and responsibilities than those who are married or who have formed a civil partnership.

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