Civil partnerships in the United Kingdom
, granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004
, give same-sex couples rights and responsibilities
identical to civil marriage
. Civil Partners are entitled to the same property rights
as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax
, social security
benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility
for a partner's children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children, tenancy
rights, full life insurance
rights in hospitals, and others. There is a formal process for dissolving partnerships akin to divorce
Law and procedure
A civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex, formed when they register as civil partners of each other, which ends only on death, dissolution or annulment. Part 2 of the Act relates to England and Wales, Part 3 to Scotland and Part 4 to Northern Ireland.
Formation and registration
A civil partnership is formed once both individuals have signed the civil partnership document in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses.
There is to be no religious service during the registration, which cannot take place in any premises that are either designed for, or are in use mainly for religious purposes. In Scotland, however, some mainstream churches, offer blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Under the standard procedure, before registration, each party will usually have to give notice to the appropriate authority. Each party must have resided in their home country, (England, Northern Ireland, or Wales) for at least seven days immediately preceding the giving of notice and there will, in most cases, be a fifteen-day waiting period after notice is given. In Scotland there is no minimum residence requirement in order to contract a valid marriage. During the waiting period, the proposed partnership is publicised and anyone may make a formal objection. If there is such an objection, the proposed civil partnership cannot be formed unless the objection is withdrawn or if the registration authority is satisfied that the objection ought not to prevent the formation of the civil partnership. Provided no objection has been recorded, or any recorded objections have been cleared, the registration authority must issue a civil partnership schedule at the request of either party upon the expiration of the waiting period. The civil partnership must then be registered within 12 months of the notice first being given.
There are also specific registration procedures that apply to particular circumstances e.g. concerning the housebound, detained persons and those seriously ill in danger of death.
A civil partnership in Wales (Partneriaeth Sifil) may be conducted either in English or in Welsh, provided that both registering parties, the registrar and witnesses are able to understand and write in the Welsh language. All Civil Partnership documents issued in Wales (irrespective of the registering language) follow a standardised bilingual English and Welsh format.
Each party to the civil partnership must be of the same sex and be at least 16 years of age. Anyone below 18 years of age will usually need parental consent, except in Scotland where such consent is not required for those who have attained their 16th birthday. Furthermore, the parties to the proposed partnership must not be within the prohibited degrees of relationship specified in part 1 of schedule 1 of the Act. Any party who is already in a marriage or a civil partnership is also ineligible to register.
Where permitted, civil partnerships may be reqistered at British embassies or consulates-general. For such registrations, at least one partner must be a British citizen.
Overseas couples wishing to register their partnership in the UK, must reside in the country for seven days prior to application for the partnership, and wait a further fifteen days before the civil partnership may be formed.
Gender Recognition Act
The Gender Recognition Act 2004
people to change their legal gender. Before doing so they must dissolve any existing marriage, which can have serious consequences for a married couple who wish to stay together after one party has changed gender. Under special provisions of the Civil Partnership Act such couples are able to dissolve their marriage and enter a civil partnership the same day.
Where a same-sex couple has registered an overseas relationship which is specified in Schedule 20
of the Civil Partnership Act, or meet certain general conditions, they are treated as having formed a civil partnership. The requirements can be found in section 212 and sections 215 to 218 of the Act.
In order for an overseas relationship to meet the general conditions it must, under the law of the country or territory in which it was formed:
- Be exclusive in nature (i.e., the law must not permit a person to be in a civil or marital relationship with more than one person);
- Be indeterminate in duration (this would exclude an arrangement whereby the parties agreed to live together for a fixed period of time); and
- Result in the parties being treated as a couple (thus excluding local registers which have no legal effects under state/provincial or national law).
Property and financial arrangements
The position of civil partners in relation to financial arrangements mirrors that of spouses. For instance, Section 11 of the Married Women's Property Act 1882 applies to civil partnerships; thus, money payable to a surviving partner under a policy of life assurance no longer forms part of the deceased partner's estate.
The laws governing wills, administration of estates and family provisions also applies to civil partners as to spouses; thus, provisions governing financial relief under Part 2 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA) and the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Court Act 1978 also apply to civil partnerships. Tax exemptions available to spouses under s.18 of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984 are available to civil partners under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. In Scotland the centuries-old system of minimum legal rights to a deceased estate for a widowed spouse were expressly extended to civil partners by section 131 of Act.
In any dispute between civil partners as to title or possession of property, either partner may apply to the Court, which can then make any order in relation to the property, including an order to sell such property. Contributions by either partner to property improvement are recognised if the contributions are substantial and in actual money or money's worth.
When dealing with an application for dissolution, nullity or separation where there is a child in the family, the Court must consider if it should exercise its powers under the Children Act 1989. Section 72 amends the definition of 'a child of the family' accordingly.
Other amendments were also made to equalise the position of civil partners with that of spouses. Civil partners are able to acquire parental responsibilities as a stepparent under Section 72 of the Act. They may also apply for residence or contact orders. Further, the right to apply for financial provision for children under schedule 1 of the 1989 act was extended to civil partners. Adoption provisions were amended in order for civil partners to treated in the same way as married couples.
Other areas of the law were also amended by the Act in order to equalise the position of civil partners. Such areas included matters relating to housing, tenancies and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Applicable parts of the Family Law Act 1996 were also amended.
There is no requirement that either party must change their surname upon entering a civil partnership. However, many couples wish to follow marital traditions and seek to change their surname to that of either partner, or combine their names to make a double-barrelled surname
. This change can be made after the civil partnership is registered, and authorities will accept a certificate of civil partnership as evidence of name change, e.g. when applying for a passport or a driving licence. In Scotland, names need not be changed to be considered valid (deeds poll
do not exist under Scots law), though some English-based companies may still ask for proof from an official such as a Justice of the Peace
. Civil partners of male peers
or knights do not receive a courtesy title
to which the spouse of a peer or knight would be entitled.
Ending the partnership
Section 37(1) of the Act provides for the making of dissolution, nullity, separation and presumption of death orders. These provisions broadly mirror those governing marriage.
No applications for dissolution may be made within one year of the formation of the civil partnership, except in Scotland. Like marriage, irretrievable breakdown is the only ground on which the Court may make a dissolution order. Also, Section 44 provides that the Court may not make such an order unless the applicant satisfies as to certain facts which are similar to those under the MCA. If the applicant satisfies the Court in this respect, the Court must make a dissolution order unless it is not convinced by the evidence that the partnership has indeed broken down irretrievably. The MCA section 5 defence is also available. While infidelity is by itself insufficient reason for dissolving a civil partnership, it may be a contributing factor in a court of law under the provision for unreasonable behaviour. This mirrors the situation with divorce law for marriages where homosexual infidelity only constitutes unreasonable behaviour.
Nullity, separation and presumption of death orders
A nullity order is one which annuls a void or voidable civil partnership. Section 49 of the Act provides that a civil partnership is void on grounds of ineligibility to register, if the parties: disregarded certain requirements as to the formation of the partnership, where any party is a minor, where any person whose consent is required (e.g. a parent) has forbidden the formation of the partnership and the court has not given its consent. Where a civil partnership is voidable, applications for nullity orders are subject to the bars of time, knowledge of defect and approbation.
A presumption of death order dissolves the partnership on the grounds that one of the partners is presumed to be dead, while a separation order provides for the separation of the parties. These orders are governed by Sections 55 and 56 of the Act and they largely mirror the position for married couples.
The first civil partnerships
The first civil partnership formed under the Civil Partnership Act 2004
took place at 11:00 GMT 5 December 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp at St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing
, West Sussex
. The usual 15 day waiting period was waived as Roche was suffering from a terminal illness: he died the next day. The first partnership registered after the usual waiting period was held in Belfast
on 19 December 2005 between Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles.
The first partnerships formed in Great Britain (after the normal waiting period) should have occurred on 21 December, but due to a misinterpretation of the waiting period, the first in Scotland were held on 20 December. The first civil partnerships in England and Wales were formed on 21 December 2005, with Westminster, Hampshire, Hammersmith and Fulham and Brighton & Hove conducting the largest numbers.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 18,059 couples entered into a civil partnership between December 2005 and the end of December 2006.