HomeWhat is a civil partner?Civil PartnershipWhat is a civil partner?

What is a civil partner?

What is a civil partner?

A civil partner is a person who has entered into a civil partnership to formalise their relationship and commitment to another person, without getting married. Civil partnership offers a couple an alternative to marriage where they gain the same legal rights and recognition as marriage, but without getting married. By entering into a civil partnership, a couple become ‘Civil Partners’.

Why do some couples choose civil partnership over marriage?

Civil partnership offers a modern alternative to marriage with the same legal advantages as marriage.

For some couples they simply do not like the label of being called “husband and wife” which is associated with marriage and prefer to be treated as equal partners with equal rights. For some marriage is considered to be an outdated institution which is out of touch with the modern world and modern values. The possessive concept of a bride being “given away” is not consistent with a modern and equal society.

Can you have a civil partnership for opposite sex couples?

Yes, an opposite sex couple can now enter into a civil partnership. Following a June 2018 case heard in The Supreme Court, the Court ruled that restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples was discriminatory. This led to The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 which amended and extended section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 by allowing “two people” to form a civil partnership, as opposed to “two people of the same sex”.

What are the benefits of being a civil partner in the UK?

Civil partnerships create the same legal rights for civil partner as marriage. These include rights in relation to property and assets, tax treatment such as couples’ allowances and the same rights which apply in terms of inheritance tax. Civil partners also have a mutual duty to maintain each other. The rights, obligations, and benefits of civil partnership include:

  • The same property rights and pension benefits as married couples
  • Entering into a civil partnership will mean that you will be able to transfer assets to your civil partner without triggering either a capital gains tax or inheritance tax liability.
  • No Stamp Duty Land Tax on transfers of property between civil partners (subject to particular circumstances)
  • The same rights of next of kin which avoids issues relating to hospital visiting rights and medical treatment.
  • Intestacy rules apply.
  • Right to register the other’s death and make funeral arrangements.

Civil partners can also apply for parental responsibility for a partner’s child or children.

Upon the dissolution of a civil partnership, civil partners have the same financial rights as divorcing couples. They have a right to claim maintenance, lump sum payments, property transfer or sale and pension sharing or attachment orders.

Can friends be civil partners?

Civil partnership is available to anyone irrespective of their gender as long as they are 18 years of age or over, not related to each other, and not already married or in a civil partnership. As long as none of these exceptions apply then there is no reason why friends cannot become civil partners. Civil partnership is open to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couple alike. 

Does being a civil partner mean you are engaged?

A person will not be engaged or create an engagement when they enter into a civil partnership. A Civil partnership is a formal legal relationship between a same-sex couple or an opposite sex couple who will acquire the status of civil partners. It is an alternative legal relationship to marriage, so they will not be engaged or married, but in a civil partnership as civil partners.

Couples can enter into a civil partnership agreement prior to entering into a civil partnership which is the equivalent of an engagement to marry. It is often used to make financial arrangements if the relationship ends. However, the civil partnership agreement does not have contractual effect and parties will not acquire the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as entering into and registering a civil partnership.

What is the difference between cohabiting as a couple and a civil partnership?

Cohabitation or living together means living together as a couple without being married or in a civil partnership.

Cohabitation is now the fastest growing type of family with approximately 3.6 million couples currently living together in the United Kingdom. Approximately 1 in 5 couples are now choosing to live together in a stable intimate relationship, without getting married or entering into a civil partnership. It is predicted this figure will rise to 1 in 4 by 2031.

Despite its popularity, cohabitation gives no general legal status to cohabiting couples, unlike civil partnership. When a relationship breaks down, cohabiting couples are forced to rely on a wide array of law ranging from property, trusts, and contract to determine what they are entitled to. They will not have any automatic rights to a property they live in which is owned by their partner, unless they can prove they have:

  • contributed to the deposit for the house or towards payment of the mortgage, or
  • made a financial commitment, like paying for major work on the house, with the understanding that they would own a share of the house.

Even upon death, cohabitees do not automatically inherit from their deceased partner.

In contrast, a civil partnership gives a couple rights and benefits that are not extended to people who have been cohabiting even for many years.

Do cohabiting couples have any legal rights?

There is a common misconception that if a couple have lived together for long enough, they have a “common law marriage”, and are effectively treated as married in the eyes of the law and automatically gain rights equal to a marriage or a civil partnership. This is wrong.

A cohabiting couple DOES NOT receive the same level of protection as a couple in a civil partnership or marriage would. In general terms the current law treats cohabiting couples as two unrelated individuals.

The current law relating to cohabiting couples and property rights states that cohabiting couples have:

  • no automatic rights to the other cohabitees property in the event of their death
  • no automatic entitlement to inherit their estate, even if they have children together.
  • no tax reliefs or exemptions that spouses and civil partners enjoy, including pensions
  • No rights to be financially supported by the other person.

Basically, neither party in a cohabiting relationship is entitled to any financial support or a share in the other’s assets if the relationship ends.

If you wish to support the rights for cohabiting couples visit this Resolution page to joint them to raise awareness and campaign for basic rights for cohabiting couples upon relationship breakdown or the death of a partner.

What legal solutions are open to cohabiting couples?

Currently, the only way for cohabiting couples to put their legal affairs in order and gain some legal protection in the event of a break-up is to:

  • Get married.
  • Enter into a civil partnership.
  • Enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.
  • Enter into a Declaration of Trust

A Cohabitation Agreement (sometimes called a living together agreement) can grant cohabiting couples legal protection, allowing them to legally define and protect their share of the property, and other financial matters in the event they decide to end the relationship.

An agreement can specify the ownership of existing assets (including property), and the financial responsibilities each cohabitee has towards the other and how savings and jointly owned assets would be distributed in the event of their relationship breaking down.

A Declaration of Trust is helpful if a couple intend to purchase a property together or if one party wishes to move into a property which is already owned by their partner. The Declaration should be entered into at the time of the purchase or at the start of the cohabitation, rather than when the relationship has broken down. A Declaration of Trust should include details of:

  • What financial contributions each party is making to that property.
  • The purpose of buying the property.
  • How the proceeds of sale will be divided if the property is sold.
  • The events that will trigger a sale of the property, and how the property will be sold.

Is it easier to end a civil partnership than a marriage? 

The legal process for ending a civil partnership and marriage are identical, and therefore neither one is easier than the other.

The legal ground for ending a civil partnership and marriage is also identical, in that a party needs to confirm that their relationship has irretrievably broken down. It is no longer necessary to prove fault or any specific ground for dissolution. The Court will rely on a statement of irretrievable breakdown as proof of the end of the relationship to process the dissolution.

For civil partnerships in England & Wales it is only possible to apply to the Court to end (‘dissolve’) a civil partnership if a couple has been in the partnership for at least a year.

The only difference in ending a civil partnership, is in terminology.  A divorce will end a marriage, whereas a Dissolution will end a partnership, and the civil partnership is dissolved. Legally, dissolution brings a civil partnership to an end and leaves either party free to marry or enter into a new civil partnership.

A civil partnership is officially and legally dissolved once a Final Order is issued by the Court.

Frequently asked questions

What rights do civil partners have?

Civil partnerships create the same legal rights for civil partner as marriage. These include rights in relation to property and assets, tax treatment such as couples’ allowances and the same rights which apply in terms of inheritance tax.

Do civil partners divorce when they end their relationship?

The process to end a civil partnership is the same as divorce, but the name for the ending of a civil partnership is dissolution.

Can civil partners call themselves husband and wife?

The correct term for a couple in a civil partnership is civil partners.









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