You may be familiar with the term civil partnership and associate it with the union of same-sex couples. However, there has been a change to the law in 2018. Therefore, there have been substantial amendments to what a civil partnership means and who is eligible for one.
Read on for everything you need to know about the history, the future, and the law of civil partnerships.
What is a civil partnership?
Civil partnerships were first introduced in Britain in 2005 to allow same-sex couples the equal legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual pairs.
In October 2018, the courts announced that mix-sex couples would be allowed to choose this form of union effective from December 2nd 2019.
The law found that by not allowing heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership, it was breaching human rights.
The law defines a civil partnership as “a formal legal relationship between two people of the same sex or opposite sex, which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other.”
Some feel that marriage is still heavily associated with patriarchy; others who are cohabiting do not want to marry or do not agree with marriage.
However, all are entitled to have the same legal and financial security that comes with a marriage certificate.
Who can have a civil partnership?
The current rules surrounding civil partnership dictate that for a civil union to be legal:
- Each person must be at least 16 years old. However, those under 18 years of age will need parental consent
- They must not be biologically related
- One of the couples needs to be a full-time UK resident
- Neither can already be married or in a civil partnership
- They must be entering the union fully out of choice and not under duress
How do civil partnerships work?
You initially need to declare your notice of intention to your registry office. You will need to have lived in the area for a minimum of seven days before you can submit your notice.
That needs to be done even if you intend to register your civil partnership elsewhere.
Upon submitting your notice, the details are made available for the public to see. The information will need to be displayed for 28 days before the civil partnership can be registered. This allows the opportunity for any objections to be made.
Following 28 days, if no objections were submitted, then you will need to register your union. This is also on the provision that there are no lawful reasons why the partnership cannot be made legal.
The registry office will then issue a Civil Partnership Schedule. This legal document is needed to register your civil partnership officially.
You will then have 12 months to register the union formally. This will need to be done in front of a registrar and two witnesses.
Where do you register a civil partnership?
Civil partnerships can be registered in any of the following venues or under any of the following circumstances:
- In any registry office or any venue that has been authorised to register civil partnerships
- Anywhere that has been permitted to hold civil marriages and has consent to register civil partnerships
- If a non-religious venue holds weddings, then they are required to hold a civil partnership. Failure to do so will result in unlawful discrimination
- A civil partnership can be registered at a religious venue, although religious organisations are not obligated to accommodate civil partnership ceremonies
Finally, you are free to choose whether you wish to hold a formal ceremony, ritual, or service. The minimum requirement is to register the partnership in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses.
However, how you choose to celebrate is down to personal choice.
How much does a civil partnership cost?
There is a fee of £35 to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership; and the registration charge.
The overall costs will depend on where you want to register your civil partnership depending on the venue and the level of ceremony chosen.
What rights does a civil partnership give you?
While a civil partnership is, by law, not the same as marriage, the change in the ruling means that civil partners are now in an identical position to married spouses.
As a result, it means having the same constitutional rights concerning finances, children, occupation of property rights, tax, and death.
The main appeal for entering a civil partnership, whether you are heterosexual or a co-habiting couple, is that you will have the same legal entitlements as those who are married.
The key dispensations are as follows:
- Tax exemption for gifts or donations between civil partners
- The Children’s Act now gives civil partners the same rights as married couples
- Civil partners can apply for the same financial orders that are available to married pairs if their relationship breaks down
- Civil partners are entitled to specific provisions and contributions for property improvements
- Civil partnerships are eligible for the same provisions on death as married couples. For example, the position of civil partners will be the same as spouses who die without a will
- The law and levels of protection are now the same for civil partners as married spouses in respect of domestic violence
How does a civil partnership vary from marriage?
Formerly the main difference between a civil partnership and marriage was that a civil partnership was only allowed between same-sex couples. However, following the Supreme Court ruling in 2018, civil partnerships have been permitted for heterosexual couples too.
There remain some small and relatively minor differences between a civil union and marriage. These include:
- A civil partnership becomes legal when the second civil partner signs the binding document. This is the moment that the relationship is recognised by law
- In cases of marriage, it is legally registered when a couple exchange vows
- Another difference is that those getting married can choose between having a religious or civil ceremony. Conversely, with a civil partnership, only a civil ceremony is allowed
How do you end a civil partnership?
The process for ending a civil partnership is the same as that for marriage. However, it is known as dissolution and not a divorce.
In England and Wales, you can apply to dissolve your civil partnership if you have been in the union for one year or longer.
If you do not wish to dissolve the partnership, you have the option to legally separate. You can do this during your initial year of the union.
In order to dissolve your partnership, you will need to apply to the court and prove that the relationship has broken down irrevocably.
You will need to give one or more of the following four reasons:
- Unreasonable behaviour: This can include abuse, physical or mental cruelty
- Desertion: If your partner has intentionally left you for two years or more
- Separation for two years: If you have been separated for more than two years, you will need to confirm this is a joint decision
- Separation for five years: You can apply to end the partnership after five years whether or not both parties agree
To apply for ending your union, you will need to complete a dissolution application including your:
- full name and address
- your civil partner’s full name and address
- the civil partnership certificate
- details of any children, regardless of their ages
In England and Wales, there is a fee of £550 payable when filing the dissolution application. For religious reasons, if you do not want to end your civil partnership, then a court fee of £365 applies to file for judicial separation.
However, those on benefits or a low income may be eligible for financial assistance.
The changes in the law to make civil partnerships legally more inline with marriage can only be a positive step. Acknowledging modern living, contemporary co-habiting arrangements, and personal choice demonstrates that the law is evolving too.
However, if these, or any changes, have caused any confusion, then do not worry. We have a panel of civil partnerships solicitors ready to answer your questions. Whether you need guiding through the process of civil partnerships or approaching the dissolution of your union, get in touch now!
Related article: Converting a Civil Partnership to a Marriage?
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