A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered into by two people which is registered and provides couples with the same legal rights and duties that they would have in a lawful marriage. Civil partnerships may offer couples a modern alternative to marriage and may be appropriate where partners do not wish to be associated with the traditional religious and patriarchal connotations of marriage. Civil partnerships were devised through the Civil Partnership Act 2004, and provision for same-sex couples was created by the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019.

The main difference between the two legal relationships is that a marriage is formed by vows and can be performed in a religious ceremony before signing a marriage certificate, whereas a civil partnership is formed by signing a civil partnership certificate. However, both legal unions are treated as fundamentally the same.

A civil partnership offers couples many of the same benefits, rights and obligations as spouses. The most notable are as follows:

  1. A civil partnership can only be terminated by dissolution or death. In order to end a civil partnership, partners must wait at least one year from the date of partnership. A dissolution is equal to a divorce and is completed on the same court petition and documents. A civil partnership goes through the same legal process of a divorce, and parties must be granted a conditional order (equivalent to a Decree Nisi) and a final order (equivalent to a Decree Absolute) to complete their legal separation. It is important to note that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill 2020 incoming for 6th April 2022 will change the divorce terminology of ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ to be the same as the civil partnership language of ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Final Order,’ which reflects their legal equality.

 

  1. Civil partners benefit from the same rights to intestate distribution of an estate as married couples and the tax benefits. Where there is no Will upon the death of one civil partner and they have no children, their entire estate will pass to their civil partner, the same way it would to a married spouse (Section 46 Administration of Estates Act 1925). If they have children, the spouse or civil partner will receive the first £250,000 and the personal belongings and half of the remaining estate. Civil partners also benefit from the same exemption from inheritance tax on assets which pass on the death of their partner as married couples. They also may take advantage of each other’s transferable nil rate tax band and residence nil rate band, and any transfer of assets during the relationship are tax free, just as for spouses. Other relationship statuses in England and Wales do not share these advantages.

 

  1. Civil partnerships provide partners with the same potential rights to maintenance as married couples. Upon the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership, couples benefit from statutory protection and can potentially make financial claims for maintenance for themselves and the children, housing and property, capital and pensions. In England and Wales, the starting point for the division of assets is 50/50, however there may be a departure from this presumption based on needs and fairness. In comparison, co-habiting couples, sometimes referred to incorrectly as common law spouses, have no entitlement to claim maintenance or assets, including the family home, which belong to their partner as their relationship is not formally recognised in the same way that a marriage or civil partnership is.

 

  1. Right of custody if there are children. If parents are married or in a civil partnership at the time of a child’s birth, both will be automatically be given parental responsibility (equal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities) regarding the children. Where couples are not married or civil partners at the time of a birth, only the mother is given automatic parental responsibility. A father may acquire this by being registered on the birth certificate, reaching an agreement with the mother or by court order. In England and Wales, the courts operate a ‘no order’ policy regarding children when parents separate to encourage them to make suitable arrangements between themselves. If this is not possible, then parents can apply to court to order child arrangements.

 

If you are in a civil partnership looking to separate, or in a co-habiting couple looking to formalise your relationship and protect your assets with a pre-nuptial agreement, call us now on 0333 344 6302 or email info@blanchardslaw.co.uk for a fast response.