A Guide To Civil Partnerships

Civil Partnership

In August 2017, heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan entered the Supreme Court to fight for the right to enter a civil partnership.

At present, only same-sex couples can enter into the union.

Supported by the best family lawyers and barristers in London, the couple argued that by refusing to allow same-sex couples to enter into a Civil partnership, the British government was breaching equality law.

Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan, who have a daughter and another child on the way, argue that not all families are comfortable with marriage, but want the "financial and legal protection" that a civil partnership provides.

If the Supreme Court overturns the previous judgement, heterosexual couples would be allowed to enter the secular partnership, which came into law for same-sex couples in 2005.

Same-sex couples in the UK have been allowed to marry since 2014.

In this article, we explain what a civil partnership is, and why some couples choose it over getting married.

What is a Civil partnership?

Civil partnerships are governed by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (the Act).  Civil partners have the same legal status as married couples in relation to, for example, tax, inheritance, and financial provision on relationship breakdown.

Entering into a civil partnership does not require a ceremony.  A civil partnership is formed when two people sign a civil partnership document at the invitation of, and in the presence of, a civil partnership registrar, and in the presence of each other and two witnesses.  The civil partnership document must then be registered.

Notice of your intention to register a civil partnership must be given 28 days prior to the signing of the document.  This provides an opportunity for objections to the union to be made.

To enter into a civil partnership, both parties must be 18 or over, or have written parental permission if they are between the ages of 16 and 18 years.

Can civil partners adopt a child?

The relevant provisions of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 were amended by the Act, allowing civil partners to adopt a child.  In addition, civil partners can also acquire parental responsibility for the child of the other civil partner.

How do I end a civil partnership?

There are two ways to end a civil partnership.

Nullity

The court can make a nullity order to annul a civil partnership because the civil partnership was either void or voidable.

A civil partnership can be declared void (i.e. having never taken place) in cases where one or more of the parties was not eligible to enter into the union, or there was a procedural irregularity, for example, the civil partnership was not registered.

Examples where a civil partnership may be declared voidable include:

  • one party did not properly consent
  • either party was suffering from a mental disorder, as prescribed by the Act
  • the respondent was pregnant by someone who was not the applicant
  • an interim gender recognition certificate has been issued to either party after the civil partnership has taken place
  • the respondent is a person whose gender, at the time of its formation, has become acquired under the Gender Recognition Act 2004

Dissolution

The process of dissolution of a civil partnership is similar to that of divorce

There is only one ground for dissolution of a civil partnership; that the relationship has irretrievably broken down due to:

  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion
  • separation of two years (with respondent’s consent)
  • separation of five years (no consent required)

Unlike divorce, adultery is not a reason for the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.

The civil partnership must have existed for at least a year before it can be dissolved.

All dissolutions of civil partnerships are dealt with by the family court.  The procedure mirrors that of divorce; it is only the terminology that is different.

It is imperative to seek legal advice regarding the financial settlement and arrangements for children.  The breakdown of a civil partner is a highly emotional time.  A family law solicitor in London can provide you with the best practical advice to ensure the decisions you make regarding finances and your children are in your best long-term interests.

What is the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill?

To address the inequality which has been highlighted by Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan, Tim Loughton MP has introduced a Private Member’s Bill, known as the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill.  Not only will this bill allow heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, but it will allow mothers' names to be included on marriage certificates, (currently only the father’s name is recorded) and for all stillbirths to be formally registered.

Many heterosexual couples feel uncomfortable with the idea of marriage and the parochial ideals some believe the institution maintains.  However, because the law provides no legal protection to cohabiting couples, and at present civil partnerships are available to same-sex couples only, many people feel they have no choice but to get married.  Mr Loughton’s bill, which passed its second reading unopposed, may rectify this situation.

OTS Solicitors is a respected immigration and family law firm in London and is highly recommended by the Legal 500.  By making an appointment with one of our Family Solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today.  Please contact us on 0203 959 9123.

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