Civil partnerships explained

Civil partnerships have been around since 2004, and it is currently only eligible to same sex couples. Last October, parliament announced that civil partnership will soon be allowed for all mixed sexed couples, meaning all couples will be able to choose to enter into marriage or civil partnership. Civil partnerships to heterosexual couples should be legal in the UK by the end of 2019.

What are Civil Partnerships?

Civil partnerships became legal in 2004, it is a legally recognised relationship between two people. The Act allows same sex couples over the age of 16 years old to enter into a civil partnership, it offers many of the same benefits a conventional marriage. Same sex marriage became legal in the UK in 2014.

What Makes Civil Partnerships Different to Marriage?

In a marriage the couple will exchange spoken words that are legally binding, which enters them into a contract of marriage. A marriage will usually be conducted in the form of a religious or civil ceremony with two witnesses. With civil partnerships there is no requirement for a ceremony.

Lawyers, Slater and Gordon underline the main legal differences between marriage and civil partnerships. They explain, “Fundamentally there are no major differences between civil partnerships and marriage but there are some differences including:

  • Civil partners cannot call themselves “married” for legal purposes.
  • Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties. Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties.
  • Adultery cannot be used as a reason to dissolve the Civil Partnership. In a marriage, if one party is unfaithful this is grounds for divorce. This isn’t the case in civil partnership dissolution. Adultery isn’t recognised in same-sex partners.”

The New Civil Partnership Act

Last year, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a change to the Civil Partnership Act. The PM said that would allow all couples to choose between marriage and civil partnership.

Previously, only same-sex couples were permitted to choose between marriage and civil partnership, it was not open to mixed sex couples. The new change was made to address “imbalance” that did not give heterosexual couples the same rights.

Why Choose a Civil Partnership?

For some couples, marriage carries too much patriarchal baggage, viewing it as an outdated institution. With civil partnerships it allows couples to have their relationship formally recognised.

The laws surrounding civil partnerships are pretty much the same as marriage in that couples have the same rights and qualify for certain benefits such as pensions, tax benefits and inheritance. Giving all couples the option of a civil partnership is likely to see many of the 3 million unmarried couples here in the UK formalise their relationships.

Currently, the only place in the UK that permits heterosexual civil partnerships is the Isle of Man. There are other countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Luxemburg, Estonia, Malta and Belgium that have offered marriage or civil partnership to all couples for several years.

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