What are your rights when you enter into a Civil Partnership?
A Civil Partnership is the term used when a couple wishes to legalise their relationship, but not marry.
Introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, civil partnerships first came into existence in England in 2005 but at that time were only available for same-sex couples and were seen as their equivalent of marriage. Since that time same-sex couples are now permitted to marry in England and, following the decision of the Supreme Court in 2018, when Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan successfully argued that they should be given the right to enter into a civil partnership rather than a marriage, civil partnerships are now available to all couples – (Civil Partnership (Opposite Sex Couples) Regulations 2019). The first ceremonies for opposite sex couples took place on 31st December 2019 including that of Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan.
As with marriage, there are few things that need to be in place before someone can enter into a civil partnership.
The first is that both parties need to be over 18 years of age or have the consent of their parents if they are between 16 and 18 years.
Neither party can already be legally married or in a civil partnership when the documentation to enter into the civil partnership is signed. If either party has previously been married or in a civil partnership then they will need to prove that Decree Absolute or the Final Order of dissolution has been granted by the Family Court.
Finally, the parties cannot be closely related.
The couple must give notice of the intended civil partnership at least 29 days before the event. Each party must give notice anywhere within the local authority in which he/she has lived for the previous 7 days and must produce original proof of name and address, proof of any name changes and original decree absolute/final order or death certificate if that person has been married or has entered into a civil partnership previously. The notice will display information including the name, date of birth, gender, occupation, period of residence, place of where the civil partnership will take place, and nationality of each party. The registrar will display the notice for 15 days. If there have been no objections to the civil partnership and there are no legal reasons for it to be prevented, the register office will supply a civil partnership schedule which is needed to register the civil partnership. The registration must take place within 12 months of giving notice otherwise the process must start all over again.
Civil partnerships are entirely civil by way of formation and are registered by signing the civil partnership document in front of a registrar and two witnesses and no words are required to be spoken. The parties can choose to hold a ceremony after the formation has taken place and this can be civil or religious in nature (if the civil partnership takes place on religious premises). It is at this stage that the parties may give their ‘vows’ to each other but these are not required for the actual formation of the civil partnership.
A civil partnership certificate not only includes the name of the father or stepfather of each of the parties it will also include the name of the mother or stepmother. The details of the civil partnership are recorded in an electronic register rather than on paper in a hard copy register.
If one civil partner wishes to change their surname to that of the other, or if they choose to have a double-barrelled surname to include both, a change of name deed will have to be entered into for the new name to be legally recognised.
So what happens if it all goes wrong? The procedure for ending a civil partnership is very similar to the procedure for ending a marriage; the application form is the same as used for divorce and there is only one ground for dissolution as with divorce namely that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. However there are some differences in terminology in that the application will be for dissolution rather than divorce, and there will be a conditional order and final order rather than decree nisi and decree absolute. Another point to note is that adultery cannot be used as a fact upon which to issue an application, even with opposite-sex couples, and therefore a applicant will need to rely on behaviour, desertion, two years' separation with consent or five years' separation. The actual process is the same as for divorce.
If the parties to a civil partnership wish to set out the arrangements for their assets and liabilities should the relationship break down, and indeed anything else they believe relevant, they can enter into a pre-partnership and/or post-partnership agreement. It must be noted that pre-partnership agreements are not binding on the Court however the Court has indicated that any pre-nuptial/partnership agreements which the parties willingly enter into with full understanding of the consequences of doing so, should be brought into effect unless it would be unfair to hold the parties to the agreement.
The range of financial orders available upon dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as for marriage and can include lump sum orders, property adjustment orders, order in relation to maintenance and orders in relation to pensions.
Some other points to note in relation to civil partnerships :-
1. Only same-sex civil partners can convert their partnership into a marriage in England and Wales but opposite sex partners cannot
2. Any Will that you have in place in England and Wales will become void automatically if a civil partnership is entered into, unless you have made a Will ‘in contemplation’ of your civil partnership. The civil partnership will need to be a definite future event, not just something that might happen, and your partner will need to be named specifically
4. Any Will that is made during a same-sex civil partnership will not become void should the partnership then be converted to marriage
5. If a civil partnership is dissolved any clauses that name your former partner as an executor, trustee or beneficiary will not apply and your former civil partner will be classed as having died on the date that your partnership was dissolved. Therefore should you wish to still include your former partner in your Will you will need to make a new Will after the dissolution
6. If one of the civil partners dies during the partnership without making a Will, the other partner will be classed as the next of kin and will inherit some or the whole of the estate under the rules of intestacy.