Civil partnerships, having been part of domestic life for some time, are now a familiar concept in our society. Indeed, within the last year, marriage between same sex partners has also now become legally possible.
Nevertheless, there are many civil partners who, for a variety of reasons, do not wish to convert their civil partnerships into marriages − or prefer to enter a civil partnership rather than a marriage. Sadly, civil partnerships can break down, just as they can with marriages.
In this article we will look in more detail at the legal status of civil partnerships and the consequences for the partners if there is a breakdown in the relationship.
Status of civil partnerships
A civil partnership is a formal legal recognition of a relationship between partners of the same sex. Once a civil partnership has been legally formed, each of the parties is treated in law as having rights, and owes to his or her partner certain responsibilities and obligations. These rights and obligations apply both whilst the civil partnership exists and to the arrangements which have to be made if it breaks down. The legal position of the parties is very similar to those, either of the same or opposite sex, who are married.
Formation of civil partnerships
A civil partnership comes into being once the formalities set out in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 have been complied with. Those formalities, both prior to the ceremony and during it, are very similar to those which apply to marriage. The ceremony is conducted by the Registrar (of Marriages and Civil Partnerships) and can only take place in premises which are licensed for that purpose.
It is increasingly common for civil partners to have children. The children of civil partners may be adopted or, in the case of female civil partners, have been born to one of the partners. It is also possible for civil partners to have a child by a surrogate mother.
Once civil partners have legal responsibility for children, then they have parental and financial obligations towards those children, which continue even if the civil partnership ends. Further, depending on what arrangements are felt to be in the best interests of the children, they will have the right to see the parent with whom they are not living and, usually, to spend time with that other parent.
Civil partners, as with spouses from a failed marriage, are encouraged to try to make appropriate arrangements for their children without the intervention of the courts. If a case does have to go to court, there is no discrimination against one or other of the partners on account of gender. The arrangements which will be made are those which best suit the interests of the children, irrespective of the sex of either parent.
Civil partners are in the same legal position as married couples in most areas including:
- social security
- wills and inheritance
- property rights
- life insurance
- inheritance tax
Breakdown of civil partnerships
If a civil partnership breaks down, an application can be made to the court for the partnership to be brought to a legal end. This is a formal process rather like a divorce at the end of a marriage. The ground on which the partnership is said to have broken down must be stated.
If the circumstances are appropriate, one party can claim financial support from the other or a share of any assets. Similarly, support can be claimed for a child or children.
As with married couples, it is possible for civil partners to enter into an agreement regarding, for example, what assets were brought into the partnership and how they accept things should be settled if the partnership ends. Whether that agreement would be upheld by the court in the event of a dispute depends largely on whether the way in which the agreement was made and its effects are regarded by the court as being fair to both parties.
The legal process for ending a civil partnership
If your civil partnership has irretrievably broken down, it is perfectly possible for parties to deal with the legal formalities of dissolving the partnership themselves. The real issue is whether all the necessary details will be considered and resolved. If an important factor, for example, an appropriate sharing of possessions, finances, including pensions is not finalised, then there is a risk that later, possibly even years later, the case may be opened again. It is, of course, far preferable that everything is completed so that both partners know where they stand.
If you are contemplating entering a civil partnership, or your civil partnership has or looks as though it may come to an end, there are legal considerations that you ought to take into account. We are experienced in dealing with these issues. Please contact us and one of our experts in this area will be pleased to help.