What is a Civil Partnership?

05 June 2018

A Civil Partnership is when two people of the same sex sign a document which gives their relationship legal recognition. A Civil Partnership is very similar to a marriage, but there are some differences between the two.

Civil Partnerships

Civil Partnerships have been in existence in England and Wales since 2005 and are governed by the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Only people of the same sex can enter into a Civil Partnership. This has been the source of much controversy in recent years, as highlighted by an opposite sex couple from London who requested they be allowed to enter into a Civil Partnership, rather than a marriage. They lost their legal battle in the Court of Appeal in 2017, although it seems the matter is not over, as the government has said it will review the law. 

How to Enter into a Civil Partnership

Currently, however, you must both be of the same sex to enter into a Civil Partnership. You must also both be aged 16 or over. If either of you is under the age of 18, written consent will be needed from your parents or legal guardians. Additionally, you must:

  • Not be close relatives
  • Have lived in the same area of England or Wales for at least seven days
  • Not already be in a Civil Partnership or a marriage. 

In order to get a Civil Partnership, you first have to give notice of your intention to enter into a Civil Partnership. You then have to register your Civil Partnership. 

Give Notice of Intention

Before you do this, you both need to have been living in the area in which you want to give your notice of intention for at least seven days. If you fulfil this criteria, you both need go to a register office in person and provide various information, including:

  • Your names, addresses and ages
  • The location your Civil Partnership is to take place
  • Details of former marriages/Civil Partnerships. 

You'll need to provide evidence to support this information, including identification and a Decree Absolute if you were previously married.

Once this has been completed, a notice of your intention to enter into a Civil Partnership will be put up in the register office for 28 days. This will be available for the public to see, and is there to allow any legal objections to the Civil Partnership to be voiced. 

Register a Civil Partnership

So long as there are no objections, you are free to register your Civil Partnership as soon as the 28 days have passed. 

The register office will give you a document called a 'Civil Partnership schedule'. You will need to provide this when registering your Civil Partnership. You must register within 12 months of receiving this document, or your will have to start the entire process all over again. 

You can register your Civil Partnership at a register office or a venue that is approved to hold civil marriages and partnerships; see list of approved premises. You can conduct the day as you like, but the one thing you must both do is sign the Civil Partnership schedule in front of an independent witness. Your Civil Partnership is then legally valid. 

Difference between Civil Partnership and Marriage

Now that same sex couples can enter into marriages, there are questions as to whether Civil Partnerships are still necessary. A marriage and a Civil Partnership are fundamentally the same in that it gives your relationship legal recognition. Yet there are some differences between Civil Partnership and marriage which, for some people, makes one more preferable than the other. 

The main differences between Civil Partnership and marriage are that:

  • Civil Partnerships are completely secular and do not have any religious grounding, whereas a marriage can be conducted via a religious or a civil ceremony
  • Civil Partnerships are formalised by signing the schedule of Civil Partnership, unlike a marriage which is formalised when each person says a prescribed form of words
  • The Civil Partnership certificate has the names of both your parents, whereas a marriage certificate has just the names of your fathers
  • Civil Partnerships are ended by Civil Partnership Dissolution, whereas marriages are ended by divorce
  • Only same sex couples can enter into a Civil Partnership
  • Civil Partners cannot call themselves 'married'.

There are some other minor differences, but otherwise the law has come a long way in making Civil Partnerships and marriages relatively equal in terms of property rights, inheritance tax, pension benefits and other legal rights and responsibilities. 

However, one particular problem that has been reported by Civil Partners is that in some countries, Civil Partnerships are not legally recognised. This is often because those countries permit same sex marriage, making Civil Partnerships a redundant concept. If Civil Partners visit or emigrate to one of these countries, their legal status as Civil Partners cannot be accepted, which can result in a range of issues. 

Ending a Civil Partnership

If you want to end your Civil Partnership, you will need to get a Civil Partnership Dissolution. To do this, you must have been Civil Partners for at least one year, and you must be able to prove that your Civil Partnership has irretrievably broken down due to one of the following reasons: 

  1. Your partner has behaved unreasonably
  2. Your partner deserted you more than two years ago
  3. You and your partner have lived separately for two years and you both agree to the dissolution
  4. You and your partner have lived separately for five years. 

Unlike divorce, you cannot use adultery as a reason for your Civil Partnership Dissolution. 

To get a Civil Partnerships Dissolution, you have to fill in a dissolution application and send it to the Court, along with the Court fee. If your partner agrees to the dissolution, you can apply for a Conditional Order, which involves completing another two forms and sending them to the Court. 

After a Conditional Order has been issued by the Court, you must wait six weeks, after which you can apply to the Court for a Final Order. Once this is granted by the court, your Civil Partnership will be legally over.

At Co-op Legal Services our Civil Partnership Dissolution service provides you with a Family Law Solicitor to dissolve your Civil Partnership for you. Once we have provided you with a written quote for the agreed work to be done, that price will not change.

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