Same Sex Marriage and Civil Partnerships
At Hoole & Co. we have experience of dealing with all aspects of both Civil Partnerships and Same Sex Marriage. Below is an outline of the legalities of both and the differences between the two.
Civil Partnerships were introduced in the UK in 2005. They are sometimes referred to as ‘Gay marriage’, however this is not strictly accurate as there are some important legal differences between a Civil Partnership and a marriage.
A Civil Partnership is a legally registered relationship which gives same sex couples similar rights to married couples of the opposite sex. These rights relate to areas such as Tax, pensions and the right to apply for parental responsibility for a partner’s child.
A variety of legal services are available in relationship to Civil Partnerships, both before entering into a partnership and in the event of a breakdown in the partnership.
Pre-partnership agreements are broadly similar to pre-nuptial agreements for marrying couples. Before entering into a civil partnership it enables you and your partner to set out what will happen if the relationship should break down. It can include things such as how jointly owned property and possessions will be divided if the partnership ends.
Although pre-partnership agreements are not currently legally binding in England, they are likely to be taken into account by the courts if they have been prepared in the proper manner and within the appropriate safeguards.
Dissolution of a Civil Partnership
If a Civil Partnership breaks down irretrievably, you must get permission from the court to legally dissolve the partnership. The court can grant you either a separation order or a dissolution order.
Separation orders are generally used where the partnership has not yet lasted for 12 months, so a dissolution order is not yet available. The granting of a separation order means that you are unable to enter into another civil partnership until you get a dissolution order.
Dissolution of a civil partnership is similar to a divorce for a married couple. Dissolution cannot be made within the first 12 months of the legal partnership, in the same way that a couple cannot divorce before they have been married for 12 months.
To apply for dissolution it has to be proven that the relationship has broken down. This must be done using one of the following grounds. These are similar to the Grounds for Divorce:
- You have been separated for two years and both agree to the dissolution
- One partner has deserted the other for at least two years
- You have been separated for at least five years (consent is not required)
- Your partner has behaved unreasonably
The only difference between the grounds for dissolution of a Civil Partnership and the grounds for a divorce is that adultery cannot be stated as the basis for dissolution of a Civil Partnership. This is because the term ‘adultery’ is a specific legal term relating to heterosexual sex. However, infidelity can still be stated as a reason for dissolution of a civil partnership under the grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
When ending a civil partnership, arrangements may have to be made with regard to finances and children. It is possible to negotiate financial and property settlements in much the same way as with a divorce, these may involve property transfers, lump sum payments or ongoing maintenance and one of our specialist family lawyers can help you with all these arrangements.
Similarly, arrangements for residence of children and contact with the non-resident partner can be dealt with at the same time.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 effectively puts same-sex marriages on the same legal basis as heterosexual couples. The rights and obligations of a Married same sex couple are exactly the same as those of a Married non-same sex couple.
There are a number of benefits of Same Sex Marriage over Civil Partnerships, including:
- Pensions – when a same sex spouse dies, their partner is now entitled to a share of their pension that reflects the full number of years that the deceased paid into it. With a Civil Partnership the surviving spouse would only be entitled to a share of the pension based on contributions made since 2004 (for a private sector pension) or 1988 (for a public sector pension).
- Recognition of their marital status in some foreign countries – more and more countries are now accepting Same Sex Marriages. Many fewer countries recognise the legal status of a Civil Partnership.
- Transgender issues – prior to the Same Sex Marriage Act of 2013, if a married heterosexual person underwent a sex change, their marriage would no longer have been recognised after receiving their Gender Recognition Certificate. Therefore they were sometimes being made to divorce and then enter into a Civil Partnership with their ex-spouse. The new law enables people in this situation to remain married and have their marriage continue to be recognised.
The Married (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 also enables civil partners to convert their partnership into a marriage if they wish.
If you would like to discuss an issue please contact us and one of our solicitors will be happy to advise you.