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What is a Civil Partnership?

15th January, 2020

On 31 December 2019, hundreds of couples in England and Wales made history by entering into mixed-sex Civil Partnerships.

Couples in England and Wales may now opt to marry or to enter into a Civil Partnership whether they are in a mixed-sex or same-sex couple.

Amongst the first to do so were Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, having spent five years campaigning for their right to enter into such a partnership. Their campaign culminated in the historic decision of the Supreme Court in 2018 which found that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights as it applied only to same-sex couples.

Following that decision, on 2 October 2018 the law was changed to enable mixed-sex couples in England and Wales to enter into Civil Partnerships as an alternative to marriage. A similar bill is currently passing through the Scottish Parliament and Civil Partnerships for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples will be able to be formed from 13 January 2020 in Northern Ireland.

Civil Partnerships enable mixed-sex couples to formalise their relationships in law without what some see as the religious and patriarchal connotations of marriage. The partnerships are entered into by a couple signing a Civil Partnership document before two witnesses and a registrar without the need for vows or a ceremony of any kind. Couples must give notice of their intention to enter into the partnership at least 28 days prior to registration.

With over three million couples cohabiting in the UK, with little to no legal status, the UK Government anticipate that a further 84,000 couples will take advantage of the change in the law and choose to form Civil Partnerships in 2020. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Despite the myth of the ‘common law marriage’, cohabiting couples have very few legal rights, and this can leave individuals vulnerable in the event of the breakdown of the relationship.

Civil Partnerships offer couples an alternative to marriage but with the same rights and advantages afforded by marriage such as shared personal allowances for income tax and Inheritance Tax reliefs. Civil Partnerships are intended to enable cohabiting couples who do not wish to marry the opportunity to formalise their relationships and provide legal certainty for their families. The range of financial relief available to Civil Partnerships at the point of dissolution is identical to those enjoyed by married couples. This can mean the sharing of assets, including pensions, as well as ongoing maintenance in appropriate cases.

Civil Partnerships may be dissolved in a process that echoes that of a divorce. Unlike with a divorce, adultery is not a valid fact on which to dissolve a Civil Partnership. Parties must be in a partnership for at least one year prior to dissolution.

Couples who are unsure about their rights should consider taking legal advice from an expert family lawyer, particularly if they have children or own property or other assets on a joint basis. For further information regarding the entering into or dissolution of a Civil Partnership, Aaron & Partners LLP have offices in Chester,  Shrewsbury and Manchester and can be contacted on 01244 405555.

Katherine Livesey

Family Law

Senior Associate
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405 422

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