Same sex couples - the Civil Partnership Act
The Legal framework
The Civil Partnership Act became law in the UK on the 5th December 2005, and from that date onwards same-sex couples have been able to register their partnership at their local Register Office. Registration gives the parties just about all of the legal rights and responsibilities of a married couple, including rights in housing, inheritance, pensions and employment, and concerning children. Registration also brings with it some of the legal responsibilities that a married couple would have.
A couple wishing to register their partnership must both attend their local Register Office in person at least fifteen days before the date of the registration ceremony, in order to complete and sign the relevant notices and declarations.
Both parties must be at least sixteen years of age (and any party under eighteen will require parental consent), not already in a civil partnership or marriage and not related in such a way that the law would not allow them to marry if they were of the opposite sex i.e. not siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles nephews or nieces (but you can marry a cousin these days).
This is a civil ceremony conducted by the Registrar, who will ask the parties to make various legal declarations, and to sign the register together with two witnesses. The parties are free to write their own vows and to exchange rings, and to bring family and friends along in the usual way. Of course, the parties are free to arrange any sort of religious ceremony they wish after the civil ceremony, such as a blessing.
After the ceremony, one party may legally take the other’s name, and have this on their passport, driving licence and other official documents.
After the ceremony, both partners may refer to each other as their Civil Partner. Both partners will also enjoy similar legal rights to married couples in housing matters, state benefits, inheritance, welfare benefits and employment, and matters concerning children. Civil Partners will be each other’s next-of-kin, and can make important decision such as concerning medical treatment.
Both partners will also assume some legal obligations. If there is a separation for example, either partner can apply for maintenance for themselves or children.
What if things don't work out?
Relationship breakdown is a sad fact of life these days, and is going to affect civil partnerships in just the same way.
If civil partners do decide to separate on a permanent basis, they can have their civil partnership dissolved by the courts, by filing a new type of petition. In law there's no such thing as a Civil Partnership divorce.
The grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership will be that the partnership has broken down for good (irretrievable breakdown) and one of three facts can be used to prove this:
i) Unreasonable behaviour
ii) Two years separation, and the consent of the other partner
iii) Five years separation
The court is also able to deal with division of the assets of the partnership, such as the house and pension funds, and to make maintenance orders, and orders is respect of children such as residence and contact.
Same sex couples may choose to sign up to an agreement prior to their civil partnership becomes official, something akin to a prenuptial agreement
. Such an agreement sets out the rights of the individuals in any property, assets, income and any debts they bring to the partnership. This article
has more on how these agreements work and why you might consider having one.