Personal Law
May 1, 2020

Extension of Civil Partnerships

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 created civil partnerships which same-sex couples could enter into. Civil partners would then be in the same position as a married couple under the law. Therefore, if the relationship ended, one civil partner could seek the dissolution of the partnership (in the same way as divorce) and also bring financial claims against the other partner (again in the same way as a financial claim consequent on a divorce). Similarly, where one civil partner died and failed to make provision in their Will for the other, then the surviving civil partner would be able to bring a claim against the Estate of the deceased partner in accordance with the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

Under the law as it stood, a heterosexual couple could not enter into a civil partnership. The law required civil partners to be of the same sex. In June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in a case that the 2004 Act was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights because it prohibited heterosexual couples from entering into a civil partnership. Therefore, as a result the Government passed the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 which came into force on 2nd December 2019. Regulations have been made under the 2019 Act which now legally permit a heterosexual couple to enter into a civil partnership if they wish, rather than a marriage.

Heterosexual couples also have the option, if they wish, of cohabiting and not entering into either formal legal relationship. A heterosexual couple who enter into a civil partnership will enjoy the same rights and remedies that a married couple have under the law. Therefore, if the relationship breaks down (as with same-sex couples) one civil partner can seek a dissolution of the partnership on the grounds set out in the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

To seek dissolution of either a marriage or civil partnership, it is necessary to shown that there has been irretrievable breakdown. In the case of a marriage this is shown by reference to one of five ‘grounds’. Four of these ‘grounds’ also apply to civil partnerships whether for a same sex or opposite sex couple. One anomaly in the law at present is that it is open to a married couple to seek a divorce on the basis of adultery but civil partners of the opposite sex cannot seek a dissolution of the civil partnership on the basis of adultery – that ground is not available. This is all quite possibly academic in that the government is proposing to sweep away these ‘grounds’ in relation to marriage, and presumably civil partnerships, and simply have the ground of irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.

Civil partners are also in the same position as married partners under the Children Act 1989 in that a male civil partner will have parental responsibility for that child in the same way as a married father does.

Therefore, a heterosexual couple who may have objections to marriage can now enter into a civil partnership which will attract the same rights and remedies enjoyed by a married couple.

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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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