Civil partnerships are a form of legal relationship which can be registered by two people who are not related to one another. Civil partnerships have been available to same sex couple since 2004 and to opposite sex couples since 31 December 2019.
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How does civil partnership differ from marriage?
Marriages are formed by the taking of vows in contrast to civil partnerships which are formed by signing a civil partnership document. Marriages are terminated by a divorce, whereas civil partnerships are dissolved. Marriages can take place in religious and non-religious venues. Non-religious venues which hold marriages must also hold civil partnerships. Religious premises are however not obliged to hold civil partnerships.
However, for most purposes, civil partners are treated in the same way as a married couple, including in respect of:
- Tax, such as inheritance tax
- Employment benefits
- Many state and occupational pension benefits
- 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.
Both parties are required to be 16 or over, and if 16 or 17 the party will usually be required to obtain written consent from their parents or guardian/s.
The parties are required to have lived in the same area in England and Wales for a minimum of seven days.
In order to register a civil partnership, it is a legal requirement to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership. The details from the notice will be made available in a register office for people to see (in the area in which the parties live and where they intend to register – if different) for a period of 28 days.
Each party must be unmarried and not already part of a civil partnership.
After 28 days, parties may proceed to register their partnership on the basis that there are no objections / legal reasons why this cannot occur.
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 can be invited to uphold any such agreement provided certain steps were taken by the parties, to include both parties having the benefit of legal advice.
How does a civil partnership come to an end?
Civil partners cannot get divorced; they can only end their relationship with a final dissolution or nullity order. A separation agreement doesn’t end a civil partnership.
If a party wishes to end a civil partnership (before the death of the other party), you need to obtain permission from the court. You can ask the court for:
- a dissolution order: The civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year before a party can apply for a dissolution order; or
- an annulment - in certain specific circumstances.
If you are not a British citizen, ending a civil partnership may affect your right to stay in the UK.
Unlike divorce it is not possible to rely on adultery as ground for establishing that your civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.
To dissolve a civil partnership, a party is required to apply to a court for a dissolution order. The civil partnership must have lasted at least one year before the application for dissolution and it must be possible to demonstrate to the court that the civil partnership has 'irretrievably' broken down (permanently broken down with no prospect of a reconciliation).
This is proved in one of the following things:
- the other party has behaved unreasonably
- the parties’ have lived apart for two years and agree to the dissolution
- the parties’ have lived apart for at least five years (the other party’s consent is not required)
- the other party deserted the applicant at least two years ago.
How to apply for a dissolution order
To apply for a dissolution order, it will be necessary to complete a Civil Partnership Dissolution Petition, which is required to be sent to the court with the civil partnership certificate and court fee of £550.
If the dissolution is agreed by both parties’, the court will be invited to make a conditional order of dissolution.
The dissolution will be made final six weeks from the date of
the conditional order. If the dissolution is not agreed, it is recommended that
you consult a solicitor.
If civil partners wish to separate but don't want to dissolve the civil partnership (or it has been less than a year since registration of the civil partnership), the parties can enter into a separation agreement.
However, neither party will be free to register another civil
partnership (or to marry) unless you a dissolution has been ordered.
For a civil partnership to be legally binding, it must meet certain conditions. To annul a civil partnership it must be either void or voidable.
A civil partnership will be void if:
- the parties are illegible to register;
- one of the parties was under 16 or under 18 without the consent of a parent or guardian;
- at the time of registration both parties were aware that incorrect notice was given, the civil partnership document was not issued, the civil partnership document was void or the registration took place somewhere other than that set out in the civil partnership document.
In this circumstance, the court will treat the civil partnership as if it did not take place.
A civil partnership will be voidable if it is defective as follows:
- a party did not give full consent;
- a party was suffering from a mental disorder;
- a party was pregnant with a third party’s child and the other party was unaware;
- a party was unaware the other party was living as another gender or had changed gender outside of the UK, or either party has been issued with an interim Gender Recognition Certificate within the past 6 months.
In this circumstance, the civil partnership will be treated as valid up to the time of the annulment.
Arrangements for the children of the family will need to be made following the breakdown of a relationship /end of a civil partnership, as with a marriage. Ideally these arrangements will be agreed between the parties but where it is not possible to do so, it is open to the parties to apply to the court to determine the arrangements, such as where the children will live and how much time they will spend with the other party. Before making any application to the court, there is an expectation of the parties to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.
Financial arrangements at the end of a civil partnership
It will be important to settle the financial arrangements following the breakdown of a relationship / end of a civil partnership, to include the division of property, savings and pensions. It will also be important to ensure that the needs of the children are met as a priority. The financial orders open to civil partners include lump sum orders, maintenance orders, property adjustment and pension sharing orders.
Converting a Civil Partnership into a Marriage
Same sex couples who
registered their civil partnership in England and Wales can convert their civil
partnership into a marriage. At present, opposite couples cannot.
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.
We offer complimentary initial consultations with our legal experts. To arrange yours contact us today on 0800 999 4437.