Civil Partnerships Guide

civil partnership

A Legal Guide To Civil Partnerships

A civil partnership is a legal relationship between two individuals that provides legal recognition of their partnership. It is available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and is an alternative to marriage for those who do not wish to marry but want legal recognition and rights as a couple.

Here are some key takeaways to understand about civil partnerships:

  • Legal Recognition: A civil partnership grants legal recognition to the relationship, providing the couple with certain rights and responsibilities similar to those of married couples.
  • Formation: To enter into a civil partnership, the couple must register their partnership at a registry office or other approved venue. This involves signing a civil partnership document in the presence of witnesses and a registrar.
  • Rights and Responsibilities: Civil partners have similar rights as married couples, including rights related to inheritance, taxation, pensions, and next-of-kin status. They also have responsibilities such as financial support and property rights.
  • Financial Matters: Upon dissolution of a civil partnership, financial matters such as the division of property, assets, and maintenance can be addressed through legal processes similar to divorce proceedings.
  • Children: Civil partners have legal parental responsibility for each other’s children, similar to married couples. They may also have rights and responsibilities related to children born or adopted during the partnership.
  • Termination: A civil partnership can be ended through a process known as dissolution, which is similar to divorce. The partnership must have lasted for at least one year before it can be dissolved, unless exceptional circumstances apply.
  • Legal Rights: Civil partners are entitled to certain legal protections and benefits, including social security benefits, immigration rights, and recognition for purposes such as healthcare and insurance.

Civil partnerships offer a legally recognised relationship option that provides rights and protections for couples who choose not to marry or whose relationships are not legally recognised in other ways.

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership offers couples, regardless of gender, a formal way to solidify their relationship without marriage. Civil partners enjoy similar legal rights as married couples, including rights related to parental responsibility, inheritance tax, social security, tenancy rights, life insurance recognition, and next-of-kin rights.

Unlike marriage, there is no legal obligation for a civil partnership to involve a ceremony or vow exchange, though couples can choose to include these elements to mark their partnership.

Currently, only same-sex civil partnerships can be converted into marriages.

The common law marriage myth

Only through a valid civil partnership or marriage can a couple obtain automatic legal rights that safeguard them in case of separation or death. Simply living together for an extended period or having children together does not grant legal rights or responsibilities as a couple. Terms like ‘common law wife’ or ‘common law marriage’ hold no legal recognition. If you plan to enter or are in a cohabiting relationship, seek advice from a solicitor to ensure you are protected legally.

How does civil partnership differ from marriage?

While both types of partnerships afford similar legal rights, they differ in their methods of formation and dissolution.

To enter into a civil partnership, couples must sign a civil partnership document in the presence of two witnesses and a registrar. In contrast, marriage involves the exchange of vows at a formal religious or civil ceremony. Notably, a civil partnership certificate lists the names of both parents of each partner, whereas a marriage certificate only includes their fathers’ names.

In England and Wales, consummation is currently required for a valid marriage, making failure to consummate a ground for annulment. Civil partnerships, however, cannot be annulled on the grounds of non-consummation, providing an alternative for couples who oppose consummation as a prerequisite for a formalised partnership.

A civil partnership is terminated by a dissolution order, whereas marriage is ended by a final order (divorce). Both processes are lengthy procedures requiring legal involvement.

Dissolving a civil partnership

To terminate a civil partnership, you must apply to the court for a ‘dissolution order’ by demonstrating that your partnership has irretrievably broken down. Additionally, you and your partner must reach an agreement on how to resolve practical and financial matters. The legal process for ending a civil partnership is referred to as ‘dissolution’, starting with the completion and submission of a dissolution application form.

Dissolving a civil partnership can proceed smoothly when both partners are in agreement. However, disagreements over practical matters such as childcare, finances, and property can prolong and complicate the process, often necessitating the involvement of solicitors to assist with negotiations.

When can I apply to end a civil partnership?

You can apply to dissolve a civil partnership one year after its commencement. To terminate a civil partnership in England and Wales, at least one of the partners must reside in England or Wales (or be domiciled here, meaning they consider it their permanent home). The location where the civil partnership was formed does not affect the dissolution process.

What are the grounds for ending a civil partnership?

On the dissolution application, you must confirm that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. Unlike before 2022, you no longer need to cite fault grounds such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery.

To initiate the dissolution process, you must complete an application form, which can be submitted by one partner or jointly by both partners.

The application can be filled out on paper or online. Regardless of the method chosen, there is a court fee of £563 to process the application. If applying by paper, you will need to provide the original partnership certificate; if applying online, a scanned copy of the certificate is required.

What happens after I send the application to the court?

The court will handle your application. If you have submitted a sole application, the court will send a copy of the application to your civil partner (or their solicitor) along with a form to acknowledge receipt of the documentation. The only grounds to contest the dissolution are jurisdiction (i.e., where the dissolution should take place), the validity of the marriage or civil partnership, or if the civil partnership has already ended.

If you have made a joint application with your partner, the court will notify both parties of the proceedings.

After 20 weeks from the initial application, you (or both of you together) can apply for a conditional order, which marks the first stage of the dissolution process. In this application, you confirm the accuracy of the details provided in the original application and express your desire for the proceedings to continue.

If the application is correct, the court will grant a conditional order. Six weeks and one day after the conditional order is issued, you can apply for the final dissolution order that formally ends the civil partnership.

How long does it take to end a civil partnership?

The application for a conditional order, which is the first stage of the dissolution process, must be made at least 20 weeks from the date of the original application. Subsequently, the application for a final order cannot be made until at least six weeks from the date the conditional order is issued. However, various circumstances can affect the timeline for obtaining a final order.

Initiating the process with a joint application is generally the most amicable approach. However, time must be allocated for completing and signing documentation jointly.

Delays may occur due to court processing times, which are beyond the control of the parties or their solicitors.

It’s crucial to wait until after a financial agreement has been reached (and approved by the court) before applying for the final order. You can refer to our article on the importance of obtaining a financial consent order for more information. Often, reaching a financial agreement (or agreement regarding children) takes longer than the dissolution process itself. Nonetheless, it is essential to allow adequate time for advice and agreement on finances, even if this delays the final order. A solicitor can provide guidance on the appropriate timing for your application.

Can I separate from my civil partner without getting a dissolution?

Yes, you can separate from your civil partner without dissolving the civil partnership if you prefer not to or if it has been less than a year since it was registered. However, any financial agreement reached during the separation will not be fully binding and enforceable unless you obtain a final dissolution order and have the agreement approved by the court. It’s important to note that your financial rights and responsibilities towards each other will continue until the final order is granted.

What are my financial rights after ending a civil partnership?

Civil partners who are separating have equivalent financial rights to divorcing couples. They possess the right to claim various financial provisions, including maintenance (commonly referred to as ‘alimony’), lump-sum payments, property transfers or sales, and pension sharing or attachment orders.

Dissolving a civil partnership: Experienced Family Law Solicitors

Navigating the end of a relationship is challenging, no matter the circumstances. Whether the separation is amicable or contentious, having knowledgeable support can make a significant difference.

While the dissolution of a civil partnership itself typically involves minimal dispute, reaching agreements on financial matters and arrangements for children can be complex.

At DLS Solicitors, our dedicated solicitors will clarify your rights and guide you through the necessary steps. We’re here to assist you at every stage and safeguard your interests. We can provide background support to empower you to communicate directly with your partner about dissolution arrangements, including financial and children-related matters. Alternatively, we can manage this communication on your behalf. If needed, we can recommend methods like mediation or arbitration to facilitate agreements on finances and children. Should court intervention be necessary to resolve disputes, we’ll guide you through the process while exploring opportunities for out-of-court settlements along the way.

Mediation for dissolving a civil partnership

Mediation provides an effective means for couples to reach agreements with the assistance of an impartial mediator. Through mediation, couples can address disagreements and make decisions on critical matters such as finances, property, and childcare. This process offers a faster, less stressful, and more cost-effective alternative to court proceedings. It enables couples to maintain direct communication within a supportive environment, empowering both partners to feel in control of the situation.

An independent and trained mediator facilitates understanding between parties and helps them reach a practical agreement. At DLS Solicitors, our specialist mediators are available to guide you through the mediation process and ensure that any mediated agreement becomes legally binding.

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DLS Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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