Civil Partnerships: The Governing Law in the UK

Civil partnerships in the UK have all the rights and obligations that arise under marriage, so dissolutions of civil partnerships are comparable to matrimonial divorce obligations. However, there are a few differences between marriage and civil partnerships. For example, a civil partnership cannot be entered into on or in religious premises. Additionally, in a civil partnership there cannot be a simultaneous religious ceremony at the time the civil partnership is registered. The signing of the civil partnership schedule creates the legal relationship between the parties.

You can only end a civil partnership by a formal dissolution, in much the same way as a marriage can only be dissolved by a divorce. The two most common facts relied upon to obtain a civil partnership dissolution are:

  • That one partner has behaved in such a way that the other cannot reasonably be expected to continue to live with the other;
  • That the parties have been separated for at least two years and they jointly consent to the dissolution.

Simply serving a notice cannot dissolve a civil partnership.

Financial Claims

As with divorcing couples, civil partners have substantial rights and obligations towards one another, including:

  • A claim for a share in property
  • Payment of capital
  • Maintenance
  • Pension sharing

It is likely that assets built up during the civil partnership and any prior cohabitation will be divided equally.

Issues Regarding Children

One of the significant differences between civil partnerships and marriage is the legal consequences for same-sex couples arising from having fertility treatment at a licensed clinic. The non-biological parent of a child of a same-sex couple will not automatically become a parent as a matter of law. After entering into a civil partnership, a civil partner will have the same rights in respect to a non-biological child as does a step-parent. It will be possible to obtain parental responsibility for the child by agreement with the biological parent. With parental responsibility, the non-biological parent will be able to apply for other orders under s8 of the Children Act 1989.

Death and Tax

Entering a civil partnership automatically invalidates any pre-existing will. It is therefore important to make a new will in contemplation of registering the civil partnership, or immediately thereafter.

With respect to taxes, civil partnerships are treated in the same manner as marriage. This is particularly important in terms of inheritance tax. The estate of a civil partner can pass to the surviving partner free of tax. The only disadvantage to equal tax treatment is that it is only possible to own one property as a principal private residence in terms of capital gains tax.

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