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The Best Guide for Civil Partnerships in the UK

May 21, 2020

Couples who wish to legally formalize their relationship in the UK can enter into either marriage or a civil partnership. These two options for legal recognition of a relationship gives UK couples the ability to choose the legal situation that most appeals to them in terms of their religious beliefs.

In 2005, civil partnerships were introduced as a way for same sex couples to gain legal protection and recognition in the UK. This law created an unusual situation in which same sex couples could choose between either marriage or a civil partnership while opposite sex couples were not given a choice. So, in December 2019, the law covering civil partnerships was amended to allow both opposite sex couples as well as same sex couples the ability to enter into either civil partnership or marriage as a way to formalize their relationship.

This article covers all the essential details about civil partnerships in the UK. Readers who wish to better understand the pros and cons of a civil partnership in the UK can learn whatever they need to know about this legal designation including:

●      The definition of a civil partnership

●      How to form a civil partnership.

●      Advantages and disadvantages of a civil partnership in comparison with traditional marriage.

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal designation for a relationship that allows a couple (two people who are unrelated to each other by blood) to register for legal recognition. By registering your relationship, you will receive special legal rights and also new responsibilities as well.

Can a straight couple have a civil partnership?

Though initially, it was only possible for same sex couples to register as a civil partnership, today, opposite sex couples are also able to register as a civil partnership. The civil partnership law was initially set forth in 2005 for same sex couples only, but it was amended on December 31, 2019 to include opposite sex couples.

How to form a civil partnership

Registration of a civil partnership is straightforward. Couples must sign a civil partnership document in front of two witnesses and a registrar. To form a civil partnership in the UK, you must fulfill the following requirements:

●       You must be over the age of 16 years.

●       If you are 16 or 17 years of age, you must have the written consent of your parents or legal guardians.

●       You must have lived in the same area of England or Wales for at least 1 full week (7 days)

●       You must not already be in a legally designated civil partnership or marriage with another person.

●       You cannot be closely related to your civil partner by blood.

Exceptions

For people aged 16 to 17 years who cannot get the consent of their parents because they have died or you don’t know their location, may apply for special permission from the court to register a civil partnership.

Registering the civil partnership

A civil partnership becomes binding when the couple has signed a legal document called the civil partnership schedule. Before the document can be signed, the couple must give notice of intent to register, but the first step that a couple must take is to contact the venue where the registration will occur.

To give notice of intention to register a civil partnership, both members of the couple must go in person to the local register office where they live and give details about the date and place where the partnership will be registered. Couples will also need to provide personal details such as name, address, age, nationality, and the history of all legalized relationships. Take along your passport, birth certificate, divorce decrees, and/or death certificates from former partners. People who are subject to immigration control will need to take additional documents to the register’s office.

Your intention to register a civil partnership must be available for people to see for 28 days prior to the registration of a civil partnership. The registration signing must take within the following 12 months.

If one of you is seriously ill and not expected to recover, a license will need to be signed instead, to speed up the process and avoid the 28 day waiting period.

How much does it cost for a civil partnership?

The cost of registering a civil partnership varies depending on where you wish to register in the UK. Venues charge different amounts to hold a civil partnership ceremony, so do some research to find a place that’s affordable for you and your partner.

After you register, you’ll receive a civil partnership certificate. Couples can register at any register office or at any venue that has been approved to register civil partnerships. Any venu that has been approved to accommodate civil marriages can also register civil partnerships. Non-religious venues that hold weddings cannot unlawfully discriminate against couples who wish to hold a civil partnership ceremony there. However, religious venues are not obligated to accommodate civil partnership couples for their ceremony.

Can you change your name after a civil partnership?

If you want to change your name after entering into a civil partnership and you also wish to update your official government documents with the new name, you’ll need a deed poll . Legally, in the UK, it isn’t necessary for you to get a deed poll to change your name if you’re willing to retain your old name on government documents. In this case, you can simply start using the new name. But to update your driver’s license, passport, and bank accounts with this new name, you’ll need a deed poll.

How long is a civil partnership ceremony?

A civil partnership ceremony can be short or long depending on the couple’s preferences. Typically, these ceremonies don’t involve exchanging vows or music as a conventional marriage ceremony would. A civil partnership ceremony can be very short and involve just a signing of the document and little else.

Do you exchange rings in a civil partnership?

Though it isn’t required, rings can be exchanged as part of a civil partnership ceremony.

Converting Civil Partnership into Marriage

Civil partnerships can be converted into marriage by making a trip to a local register office where the couple will need to sign the appropriate conversion documentation. The change can be done within a few hours and also permits the couple to have a religious wedding ceremony if desired. After the documentation is signed, the couple will be presented with a valid UK marriage certificate that will show validity from the date in which the civil partnership was created. When the documentation is complete and the couple receives the marriage certificate, they are then eligible to receive all the benefits of a marriage in the UK and abroad.

Ending a Marriage or a Civil Partnership

Ending a marriage or civil partnership requires that the partners submit legal documentation requesting a divorce (in the case of marriage) or dissolution (in the case of a civil partnership). In both situations, the former partners must submit paperwork and documentation specifying that they wish for the marriage/civil partnership to be terminated, and the details under which the two partners will separate. For example, both civil partners and married couples need to specify how they want their money and property divided, and if there are children, guardianship rights must be determined.

Keep in mind that the exact rules and specifications for divorce/dissolution vary in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Civil Partnerships vs. Traditional Marriage

Now that you understand what a civil partnership is, you may be asking yourself if it differs from marriage. This next section will explain the differences in detail.

What's the difference between civil partnership and marriage?

Civil partnerships and marriages are similar, but they have some important differences. Although both come with certain legal benefits, the exact legal specifications vary. For many same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the UK, a civil partnership is close to marriage, but it doesn’t carry all the legal responsibilities of marriage. Thus, a couple may choose to register a civil partnership rather than getting legally married because of the different legal status and rights that a civil partnership allows them.

One important legal difference to be aware of is that although UK marriage certificates are recognized as legitimate almost everywhere in the world, a civil partnership certificate may only be valid in certain situations. Another difference relates to the grounds on which a person in a civil partnership may request a dissolution of the partnership; whereas a member of a married couple may file for divorce if adultery is committed, a person in a civil partnership is not allowed to cite this as a reason for dissolution and must be able to prove their reasoning in a different way.

Differences in survivor’s benefits (should one partner be widowed) and state pensions vary between civil partnerships and marriages as well. Generally, married couples have more liberal options for receiving benefits and pensions if their partner dies. However, same-sex civil partnership rules are variable and often resemble that of married opposite-sex couples. This isn’t always true though, so it’s important to look into the exact differences before deciding on either a marriage or a civil partnership.

What are the advantages of a civil partnership?

There are many advantages of establishing a civil partnership in the UK. While the rights allowed by a civil partnership are generally lower than those allowed in a marriage agreement, there are still some important benefits of civil partnership to consider. For example, a civil partnership has the following advantages:

●       An agreement can be made between the partners when the partnership is established that determines who will get the children, home, pension(s), and personal belongings should the couple end the relationship or in the case of death.

●       Civil partners can jointly adopt a child (rules for adopting overseas may vary, especially when it comes to same-sex couples who are adopting)

●       Couples who are in a civil partnership who have separate bank accounts will not automatically have access to the other person’s account.

●       If one partner dies, the entire amount in the deceased partner’s account automatically belongs to the living partner unless otherwise specified in a will or other document.

●       Civil partners can create joint bank accounts together.

●       The debts/financial obligations of one partner do not legally also become the obligations of the other partner when the civil partnership is created. Legally, partners do not share debt or financial obligations.

●       In a civil partnership, if violence or abuse is committed against one partner, that partner has more rights and options available than if they were merely cohabiting.

●       Each partner retains authority in medical emergencies to act as next of kin for the other

●       There are no requirements for either partner to change their legal name in a civil partnership.

●       Civil partners are able to hold and obtain legal responsibility for the other partner’s child in the case that the partnership should be dissolved or the other partner dies. Civil partners may not automatically be granted guardianship if they are not the biological parent of a child, but they have legal rights to request guardianship as a civil partner, even if they have not yet legally adopted the child.

What are the disadvantages of a civil partnership?

Although civil partnerships have quite a few advantages, there are still some important disadvantages to take note of. Whereas in the past same-sex marriage wasn’t always legal in the UK, now that it is, civil partnerships are a legal relationship choice that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are able to make. Here are some of the disadvantages of a civil partnership:

●   Civil partners do not have the same legal rights to the other person’s bank accounts or assets as do married couples. If one person dies in the civil partnership dies or is severely injured, the other partner may not be able to legally access that partner’s funds if their accounts are not joint accounts.

●   The surviving partner in a civil partnership will only inherit the deceased partner’s assets if this arrangement was specifically noted in a will.

●   Dissolving a civil partnership is done legally. Civil partners may not simply separate and thus terminate their agreement. They can choose to not live together, but they must legally terminate the civil partnership if they choose to end their relationship (this differs from couples who are only living together).

●   In some cases, you may need to supply special legal authorization or documentation when renting property with a civil partner to allow them to have rights to joint tenancy.

●   Property is not automatically transferred from one partner to another in the case of the death of one partner (which is what usually happens in a marriage).

●   Should one partner die, the other partner will have no automatic legal right to the other person’s pension.

●   Applying for parental responsibility of a child may be different and more complex within the context of a civil partnership.

Conclusion

Civil partnerships are different from marriages and they have a few important benefits (and disadvantages) for couples to consider. Although initially only same-sex couples were permitted to form civil partnerships, now that opposite-sex couples are also able to enter into these partnerships, couples in the UK are now free to choose the best situation for them legally as well as socially.

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