Civil Partnerships

Since December 2005 same sex couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership. This is essentially the same as marriage and civil partners have most of the rights and responsibilities that married couples have.

As with divorce the only ground for dissolution of a civil partnership is that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. This has to be based on one of four facts rather than on one of five facts as with divorce. The missing fact is adultery which is not considered applicable in civil partnerships.

However, if one partner is carrying on a relationship with another person outside the civil partnership that may be considered unreasonable behaviour, which is one of the facts that can relied upon.

The other three facts all relate to periods of separation; two years separation with consent, five years separation where there is no consent and desertion in excess of two years.

Neither party to a civil partnership can apply for dissolution in the first year. Prior to then or where the parties wish to separate but do not wish to dissolve the partnership, but want to regularise their financial affairs as part of a separation, then either party can apply to the Court for a Separation Order.

The procedure for dissolution is very similar to the divorce procedure, although the terminology is different.

The financial claims that one partner can make against the other on dissolution of a civil partnership are essentially the same as divorcing couples. The factors to be taken into account by the court are also similar. The Court will look at the resources available to the parties, the parties’ needs, the standard of living enjoyed during the civil partnership, the age of each civil partner, the duration of the civil partnership, any mental or physical disability of either civil partner, the contributions which each civil partner has made or is likely to make in the foreseeable future to the welfare of the family, the conduct of each civil partner (if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard) and the loss of a dependant’s pension and similar rights.

Just as with marriage, those entering into a civil partnership should therefore consider whether they need to attempt to safeguard any assets before entering into the civil partnership. A pre-civil partnership agreement can be entered into specifying how the parties intend to conduct themselves financially and otherwise, and their intentions as far as any pre-owned assets and any assets acquired during the civil partnership are concerned as well as how other assets such as inherited property should be treated.

The same considerations as for a pre-marital agreement apply so that both parties must have legal advice, enter into the agreement voluntarily and the agreement must be entered into well in advance of the civil partnership ceremony if it is to have any chance of being upheld on dissolution of the civil partnership.