The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into operation on 5 December 2005 and enables a same-sex couple to register as civil partners of each other.
How does civil partnership differ from marriage?
Civil partnership is a completely new legal relationship, exclusively for same-sex couples, distinct from marriage. There are a small number of differences between civil partnership and marriage, for example, opposite-sex couples can opt for a religious or civil marriage ceremony as they choose, whereas the formation of a civil partnership will be an exclusively civil procedure. However, for most purposes, civil partners are treated in the same way as a married couple, including:
- Tax, including inheritance tax;
- Employment benefits;
- Most state and occupational pension benefits;
- Family arrangements including the duty to provide maintenance for your civil partner and any children of the family and the right to apply for parental responsibility for your civil partner’s child;
- Inheritance of a tenancy agreement;
- Recognition under intestacy rules;
- Access to fatal accidents compensation;
- Protection from domestic violence; and
- Recognition for immigration and nationality purposes
How is a civil partnership created
A civil partnership can be registered in England and Wales in a register office or in approved premises. In order to register a civil partnership, it is a legal requirement to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership and, once given, your notices are publicised by the registration authority for a period of fifteen days. Civil partners can enter into pre-civil partnership agreements, in the same way as a couple about to marry can have a pre-nuptial agreement. In the event of dissolution, the court will be likely to enforce the terms of any such agreement provided both parties were legally advised before entering into it.
How does a civil partnership come to an end?
A civil partnership will come to an end if you or your civil partner dies. If you want to end your civil partnership before one of you dies, you need to get permission from a court. You can ask the court for:
- a dissolution order. Your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year before you can apply for a dissolution order.
- a separation order. You don't have to wait until your civil partnership has lasted for a year before you can apply for a separation order.
- an annulment.
If you are not a British citizen, ending a civil partnership may affect your right to stay in the UK.
If you want to dissolve your civil partnership, you will need to apply to a court for a dissolution order. Your civil partnership must have lasted at least one year before you can apply for a dissolution. You must prove to the court that the civil partnership has 'irretrievably' broken down - that is broken down on a permanent basis. You must be able to prove at least one of the following things:
- your partner has behaved unreasonably
- you and your partner have lived apart for two years, and that you both agree to the dissolution
- you and your partner have lived apart for at least five years, if only one of you agrees to the dissolution
- your partner deserted you at least two years ago.
How to apply for a dissolution order
To apply for a dissolution order, you will need to fill in some forms. You can get these at www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk. or from the nearest court that deals with civil partnership dissolutions. If your partner agrees to the dissolution of your civil partnership, the court will look at the papers and make a conditional order of dissolution. The dissolution will be made final six weeks from the date of the conditional order. If your partner does not agree to the dissolution, you will need to consult a solicitor.
Civil partnerships and separation orders
If you want to separate from your civil partner but don't want to dissolve the civil partnership (or it has been less than a year since you registered your civil partnership), you can apply to court for a separation order. You do not have to have been living apart from your partner first but neither of you will be free to register another civil partnership (or to marry) unless you get a dissolution order. If you have children, the court will not make a separation order unless it is satisfied about the arrangements for the children.
For a civil partnership to be legal, it must meet certain conditions. For example, you and your partner must both be over 16 when you register and you must not already be a civil partner or married to someone else. If your civil partnership does not meet one of these conditions, the court can end the partnership by granting an annulment.
Children at the end of a civil partnership
When a civil partnership ends, everyone with parental responsibility will need to decide who will care for the children on a day-to-day basis. Having parental responsibility means you share with your partner the responsibility for the child's health, education and welfare. If you are in a civil partnership, you have no automatic parental responsibility for your partners' children. However, you may have got parental responsibility by becoming a step-parent, or by getting a court order.
If you are dissolving a civil partnership or getting a legal separation, the court will not end the relationship until it has looked at the arrangements for the children. You'll have to give the names of all “dependent children of the family”. A dependant child is one who is under 16 or under 19 if in full-time education. It includes children who are the children of both partners together, adopted children, step-children and any children who have been treated as part of the family.
You must give details of how the children will be cared for; you will need to say where the children will live and who with as well as the financial arrangements for their support.
It is best if everyone with parental responsibility can come to a friendly arrangement but if you cannot you can ask the courts to make decisions for you. You will need legal advice to do this.
Financial arrangements at the end of a civil partnership
At the end of a civil partnership, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially, regardless of where the children will live. This means biological parents and people who have parental responsibility. You and your partner also have a legal responsibility to support one another financially at the end of a civil partnership. This is the case whether or not you have children.
Housing rights at the end of a civil partnership
At the end of a civil partnership, a court can give you or your partner short-term rights to the home, for example:
- the right to stay in your home
- the right for you to come back home to get your things
- the right to stop your partner from coming into the home.
A court can also make long-term arrangements about housing. If there is a disagreement about housing, the court will deal with the disagreement as part of the dissolution of a civil partnership. If you are thinking of going to court about your housing rights after the breakdown of your civil partnership, you should seek advice.
Rights to the home for owner-occupiers
If you and your partner are owner-occupiers, it is possible that only one of you is the actual owner of the property. If this is the case, the partner who is not the owner will need to protect their right to stay in the property and make sure the owner does not sell it without their knowledge. Even if you actually move out when the relationship ends, you may want to move back in again later. You may want to take legal advice about how to protect your rights.
Same sex marriage
On 29 March 2014, gay couples became entitled to enter into a marriage. From December 2014 it has become possible to convert a civil partnership into a marriage by following the correct procedure.
For more information go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/comparison-of-civil-partnership-and-marriage-for-same-sex-couples
How we can help
If you need advice about any aspect of a civil partnership, including pre-civil partnership agreements, or your rights on dissolution of a civil partnership, then please consult a member of our family law team.