Mixed-sex civil partnerships… but what does it actually mean?

3 October, 2018
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

Civil partnerships are finally to be available to same sex couples.  At last, couples have a choice between getting married or entering into a civil partnership. But what are the implications of choosing one instead of the other?

Whilst there may be various personal reasons for choosing one over the other, from a legal point of view the difference is minimal – it comes down to a matter of preference.

Marriages can be conducted through either a civil or a religious ceremony. On the other hand, the formation of a civil partnership is an entirely civil event. Civil partners can choose to add a ceremony to follow the formation of their civil partnership but this does not form part of the formation. In order to formalise a marriage, a prescribed form of wording is required. In contrast, civil partnerships are registered by signing the civil partnership document and no words are required.

In relation to benefits, tax consequences, state pensions and state pensions for surviving spouses/partners, there is no distinction as to whether or not you are married or in a civil partnership. You will obtain the same rights. This was an important part of the recent legal action taken by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who campaigned and fought all the way to the Supreme Court for there to be equality for all, regardless of your sexual orientation.

In terms of the consequences of ending a marriage or a civil partnership (“divorce” for a marriage and “dissolution” for a civil partnership), there are some procedural differences but the financial consequences of that union will be the same. In establishing civil partnerships for homosexual couples in 2004 (before equal marriage was possible), the government was very clear that the same rights would attach as for married couples. It is important to bear in mind that a civil partnership is the same as a marriage in this regard – and the court can become involved to divide the family’s assets at the end of the relationship. Similarly, it is possible to protect your assets with a pre-nuptial agreement prior to entering into a civil partnership.

Civil partnerships are not new to us. The law may now be moving ever closer to becoming equal, but civil partnerships have been part of our work for over a decade. We have a wide range of experience in advising clients contemplating entering into such a partnership or following the unfortunate breakdown of such unions. Should you require any assistance in respect of your own circumstances, or in connection with this article, please do not hesitate to contact Helen Fisher by email or phone to helen.fisher@crippspg.co.uk or 01892 506 258.