Civil partnerships were introduced back in 2005, before marriage was available to same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples. Following the legal battle of a heterosexual couple who took their case to the Supreme Court, the government took steps to allow two people who are not of the same sex to enter into a civil partnership. As of December 2 2019, mixed sex couples in England and Wales can opt for a civil partnership rather than marriage.
The government reckons there could be more than 80,000 civil partnerships within the first year alone. So what exactly is a civil partnership? Does it give you the same rights as marriage? And how do they work? Legal expert Alexandra Hirst, a family lawyer at Boodle Hatfield LLP, explains everything you need to know about civil partnerships.
What is a civil partnership?
A civil partnership is defined under the law as a formal legal relationship between two people of the same sex, which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other.
Who can have a civil partnership?
As the law currently stands, to be eligible for a civil partnership both partners must:
- be of the same sex (this will change by the end of the year)
- be unmarried and not already a civil partner
- be over the age of 16 (and have parental consent if under 18)
- not be within the prohibited degrees of relationship (for example, they cannot be related biologically)
- be entering into the civil partnership freely and without duress
How do civil partnerships work?
First, you have to give notice of your intention to register to your local register office. You must have lived in an area for at least seven days before you can give notice there, and this needs to be done even if the civil partnership will be registered somewhere else. Once notice has been given, details of the notice will be made available in a register office for people to see. The details must be made available for 28 days before the civil partnership can be registered, to give an opportunity for objections to be made.
Next, after the 28 days, you have to register the civil partnership - as long as there are no objections and no legal reasons why you can't. The register office will issue you with a legal document called a Civil Partnership Schedule which is needed in order to register a civil partnership. The partnership must then be registered within the next 12 months and must be done in front of a registrar and two witnesses.
Where can you register a civil partnership?
Civil partnerships can be registered in any register office or at any venue that has been approved to register civil partnerships. Anywhere that has been approved to hold civil marriages automatically has approval to register civil partnerships. Non-religious venues cannot choose whether to hold civil partnerships if they hold weddings as this would constitute unlawful discrimination. A civil partnership can also be registered on religious premises, though religious organisations are not obliged to host civil partnership ceremonies.
There are no further legal requirements, so you can choose whether or not you have a ceremony.
How much do they cost?
You will need to pay a fee to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership and a registration fee. The fee depends upon where you want to register your civil partnership.
What rights does a civil partnership give you?
Entering into a civil partnership provides you with:
- tax exemption for gifts between civil partners
- under the Children Act (which deals with the arrangements and provision for children) civil partners have the same rights as married partners
- an ability to apply for the same financial orders as are available to a married couple on relationship breakdown
- specific provisions relating to contributions by a civil partner to property improvements
- provisions on death; for example, the position of civil partners will be the same as spouses including rights upon intestacy (i.e. if one partner dies without a will)
- protection from domestic violence under the law so that a civil partner has the same protections as a spouse
Although a civil partnership is by law not the same as a marriage, civil partners are now in an identical position to spouses in relation to financial provision, children, rights of occupation of property, tax and death.
How do you end a civil partnership?
The process is the same as divorce, (using the same forms and Court) although it is referred to as a dissolution. One difference is that civil partners cannot file for a dissolution on the basis of their civil partnership on the basis of adultery, whereas married couples can.
The terminology is also slightly different, for example, in place of a "decree absolute of divorce" (the final decree which ends a marriage) the court grants a "dissolution order".
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