IMAGINE spending 43 years of your life with someone, welcoming children into the world and, because you haven’t walked down the aisle and said  “I do”, not even being considered their next of kin.

That was the situation faced by Ann “PeeWee” Chamings and John Eccles before a long- awaited change in the law meant their relationship could finally get the legal recognition they wanted.

Making history

While revellers across the county were gearing up to welcome in a new year, the pair from Iden were making history by being among the first couples in the country to enter into an opposite sex civil partnership  – something previously only possible for same sex couples.

With their two grown children as witnesses and friends watching on, Ann and John signed their civil partnership schedule in the Mayor’s Parlour at Hastings Town Hall on New Year’s Eve.

“I felt, even as a little girl, that marriage was not something I wanted to do,” Ann told Your East Sussex.  “But I thought it was really unfair that, because we didn’t say the right things in front of the right people, we were deprived of all the rights of married people.

“There are no rights for a common law partner – you are not even considered next of kin, which is why it was really important for us to enter into a civil partnership on the first day we were able to.  Why waste a single minute to get the rights that married people enjoy?

“We now have exactly the same rights as married couples without having to go through, what I feel, is an unnecessary ceremony,” she said.

Law change

The law preventing opposite sex couples from entering into a civil partnership was only changed after a five-year legal battle led by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Before December 31, 2019, unmarried opposite sex couples did not enjoy the same property rights as married couples and were not entitled to the same inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits.

New Year’s Eve

It was the change in these benefits that led to Marc Fish and Vanessa Eley from Seaford, and Tania Lindon and Mark Slater to enter into a civil partnership on New Year’s Eve at the historic Southover Grange in Lewes.

For Tania and Mark, their civil partnership celebrated finally winning rights for couples who choose not to marry.

“We were delighted to have the opportunity to form a civil partnership on the very first day it’s legally possible for opposite sex couples to do so,” they said.

“Our civil partnership marks the end of a journey that began with signing our wills knowing, that as a long standing couple with grown-up children, we were without the same legal and financial protections enjoyed by those who were married.”

Unlike a marriage, there are no set words to a civil partnership. Couples can celebrate in any way they choose but must read a legal declaration and sign the civil partnership schedule in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses in a Register Office or licensed venue.

If you are considering a civil partnership following the change in the law, you can speak to registration service by calling 0345 60 80 198.

East Sussex has more than 100 licensed venues including castles, hotels, stately homes and barns. Click here to see details of all licensed venues in the county, as well as information about ceremonies and suppliers.