Christmas is almost upon us, which, for Christians the world over, should be a special time. The sad reality is that the Baby Jesus comes a distant fourth to eating, drinking and making merry. This time of peace on earth and goodwill also coincides with the highest incidence of domestic violence, followed by petitions for divorce and separation. Hallelujah!

Still, on the positive side, without Baby Jesus, we wouldn’t have long holidays spent at the airport or stuck in a train tunnel screaming at some xenophobic Froggie or skidding along motorways and invoking the name of the Lord.

Though it pains me to say so at this time of the year, Christianity is at the crossroads. The Catholics are just about hanging on, but the Church of England is staring into the abyss, riven by competing factions on every front, with women bishops and homosexuals high on the agenda. Before long, and at the present rate of decline, the Church will be good for nothing more than christenings, weddings and funerals.

Getting married in Church is part of the package – the overpriced wedding dress, the reception, the interminably boring speeches and the dreaded disco, now de rigueur and droning on into the small hours, followed by chundering in the car park. Let joy go unconfined!

But the strange thing about weddings, devalued as they are in the sight of the Lord, is that the law sits up and takes notice when the marital edifice comes tumbling down, in a way that “partnerships” are ignored. Those whom God hath joined together have certain rights and obligations when man puts them asunder, and the Family Courts wade in, clutching as they do their copy of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Several high profile divorces are testament to this interference, with spouses, mainly men, being taken to the cleaners in a way they had never imagined, not even in their worst nightmares. Prenuptial agreements are not worth the paper they are written on, and serial divorcees are making a killing.

But where couples eschew the package, and choose to live as man and wife but not in wedlock, different rules apply which can have significant and far reaching consequences when the partnership is dissolved. The MCA has no application whatsoever, so where partners have purchased property in joint names, the law assumes joint responsibility for assets and liabilities. For the most part, it matters not who did what, and when. It’s a split down the middle.

Very few partners appreciate the need for a Declaration of Trust deed when they set up house and home together. They may agree all sorts of arrangements, but if it isn’t in writing, bad luck.

A Declaration of Trust, duly notarised, sets out the rights and obligations of the respective partners, and it is to this Declaration that the courts will turn in the event of a dispute. What is more, unlike prenuptial agreements, it is legally binding on the parties.

It seems a strange anomaly in our law, the more so in our increasingly Godless society, and there is a strong argument for bringing “partnerships” under the control of the courts in much the same way as “married” couples. After all, the commitment is the same, but without the sham of a Church service and the crippling expense of all the additional features.

Personally speaking, I don’t approve of partnerships, as I prefer a commitment in the sight of God. But with God on the back burner, I question why partners, who are perhaps being honest in their lack of beliefs, should be so prejudiced in the eyes of the law. Time for a rethink.

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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