Lately, the landscape of unions between couples, both opposite-sex and same-sex, has undergone significant transformation in England and Wales. With the changing legal landscape, same-sex couples are now able to marry, while opposite-sex couples have the option of entering into a civil partnership. This progression acknowledges and embraces the diverse ways in which couples choose to formalize their relationships in today’s society. Understanding the distinctions between civil partnership and marriage is crucial, as it allows couples to make informed decisions about their legal rights and responsibilities. Consulting a family law solicitor can provide valuable insights and guidance on the registration process and the legal implications of each option. By seeking appropriate legal advice, couples can ensure their chosen union is properly recognised and protected under the law.
What is a civil partnership?
A civil partnership is basically a legal relationship entered into by a couple, which gives them similar legal rights to a married couple. Civil partnerships were originally introduced in the UK in the year 2004 and were aimed at providing legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples. Later, there were some developments where same-sex couples were legally allowed to marry. However, this elicited mixed reactions as this development gave rise to an unusual situation where same-sex couples were given a choice between civil partnership and marriage, whereas opposite-sex couples were restricted to marriage only.
There were so many opposite-sex couples who would have chosen not to marry, due to the fact most of them were married before and wouldn’t have wanted to repeat the process, while others object to the religious or patriarchal associations of traditional marriage. Therefore, the lack of choice for opposite-sex couples was seen as a breach of human rights and was challenged in court, where the judges unanimously agreed that it was indeed a breach of human rights. So, in 2019, civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples were introduced in the United Kingdom.
What are the differences between marriage and civil partnerships?
Legally, civil partnerships offer the same rights as the ones enjoyed by a married couple – tax allowances, property rights, parental rights, and many more. The key differences between the two types of unions have everything to do with the formalities carried out either when entering into or when ending it.
For instance, when entering into a marriage, you will need to complete a marriage certificate, which requires the names of the couple’s fathers to be included. On the other hand, for civil partnerships, yes, you will complete a similar form, but this one requires you to enter the names of both parents. The other key differences in the way the unions are formalised, where civil partnership requires a couple to sign a document referred to as the schedule of civil partnership, whereas a couple who’s getting married only needs to say a set of prescribed words or vows.
Moreover, civil partnerships don’t have any religious groundings and are, in fact, entirely secular. As for marriages, they can be conducted either in a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony. Don’t forget that some religions don’t recognise same-sex marriages, which certainly makes a whole lot of difference. In addition, after signing all the documents, couples in a civil partnership can’t legally identify themselves as being married.
Also, when ending the union, marriage is ended when both parties sign divorce papers in divorce proceedings, which is a whole process on its own. Civil partnerships, on the other hand, are ended by dissolution, which is also a process of its own. Both processes are, however, fundamentally similar, with only a few differences.
How to register a civil partnership
As we mentioned above, it’s only by registering a civil partnership that your relationship will be legally recognised, and that you will enjoy the rights brought about by the partnership. But first, who can register a civil partnership? We should point out that not just about anyone can register, and that for those who are allowed to register, there are a number of requirements that have to apply. They include:
- For starters, you and your partner must be of age 16 and above. If you are 18 or 17, you will also need to obtain written consent from the parents or guardians.
- You have been in the same area in the UK for at least seven days.
- Both of you are not blood-related.
- Neither of you is married or in another civil partnership.
If you have met the above requirements, here is how you should go about the registration process. First:
You should give notice – both you and your partner will each need to notify the local registrar about your intention to register a civil partnership. This must be done in person, regardless of where you are applying from. Remember, you must have lived in that particular area for at least a week. When giving the notice, you will be needed to give details of the exact date and place where the registration will take place – the venue must also be notified before giving these details. You will also be required to provide personal details to the Registrar’s Office, including your name, address, nationality, age, and whether you’ve been married or in a civil partnership before. You will be required to provide evidence as proof for all these details, which includes documents like your birth certificate, passport, a decree absolute, or a death certificate
Once the notice of your intention to register for civil partnership is submitted to a Registrar office, it will be availed for people to see, which must be done 28 days before the actual registration occurs. This window gives anyone with an objection against the planned civil partnership to come forward and present their case. If there are no objections after 28 days, then you are allowed to go ahead and register the partnership, where you will be provided with a civil partnership schedule for you to fill out. Please note, this registration must take place within the next twelve months, failure to which you will be required to start the process all over again.
The registration – the registration can take place at any venue that has been approved to carry out civil partnership registration, including non-religious venues that hold weddings. But as for religious venues, they are at liberty to choose whether or not to host civil partnership ceremonies. Now, once you sign the civil partnership schedule, you will be legally registered, and you can choose to hold a ceremony to celebrate the milestone, though it’s not required. With your permission, the local authorities overseeing the registration may organise a ceremony in addition to the signing. What’s more, no religious service is allowed at the signing of the civil partnership schedule.
Special rules for individuals with a serious illness
For those who are seriously ill and are planning to register for civil partnership, there are special rules that come into play. These rules relax the rules which normally govern civil partnership registration so as to speed up the process. What this means is that you won’t have to wait for the 28 days between giving notice and registration, and when giving the notice of intention, both of you don’t have to be there – one of you can do it. However, you will have to provide evidence of the serious illness to the registry office.
What happens if one of us has acquired a different gender?
First and foremost, the individual looking to change their legal gender can do it by obtaining a gender recognition certificate. Now, if you are already in a civil partnership when the gender switch is happening, then what happens depends on where your civil partnership was registered. For instance, if it was registered in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, then you don’t have to end it or convert it into a marriage given that opposite-sex couples are legally allowed to register for civil partnership. But if you registered while in Scotland, you will have to convert it into marriage or end it as opposite-sex civil partnerships aren’t allowed in the country. As a matter of fact, the best decision would be to first convert it into marriage before you even apply for a gender recognition certificate. And if you had registered your civil partnership abroad, you will also need to end it before receiving your full gender recognition certificate.
What happens to people who are subject to immigration control?
If you or your partner are subject to immigration control, then there are special rules that guide the registration process. Only British citizens or anyone with the right to live in the UK, an EEA national, or someone who doesn’t have conditions for staying in the UK – such as a diplomat or a foreign member of the armed forces – are not subject to immigration control. If you are not under these categories, then you are subject to immigration control, and that means that both you and your partner will have to notify a special Register Office of your intention to register your civil partnership. Before you are allowed to proceed further with your registration, you have to be granted entry clearance to the UK first, which must be presented when registering for the civil partnership in the United Kingdom. If an individual is entering the UK for civil partnership purposes, then they must report their intention to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
Converting a civil partnership into a marriage
In England and Wales, same-sex couples who are in a civil partnership are allowed to convert it into a marriage. Opposite sex civil partners aren’t accorded the same luxury though, meaning that they can’t convert their civil partnership into a marriage. Opposite-sex couples can just get married if they want to.
Now, there are two ways through which a civil partnership can be converted into a marriage:
- A standard conversion, which is basically a very simple administrative process, and;
- A conversion that’s followed by a ceremony
The standard conversion – this is a process where both you and your partner attends a Registry Office, where you will be needed to provide the following evidence:
- Your current passport and/or birth certificate, which are evidence for your name and date of birth;
- Your address, which you can prove with a utility bill;
- The original civil partnership certificate.
Once the registrar is satisfied with the evidence provided, a legal declaration will be drawn for both of you to sign. The declaration states that you agree to convert the civil partnership into a marriage and that both of you are happy becoming husbands or wives. If you want, you can say the declaration to each other, and afterward, you will be granted a marriage certificate, declaring you legally married.
A conversion followed by a ceremony – basically, this is a two-stage process where the conversion is carried out in venues where same-sex couples are able to marry, such as Register Office, approved premises, religious buildings that are registered to carry out same-sex marriages, and premises that practices faith. Moreover, both of you will be required to attend an appointment at a Registrar Office, where you will provide the following:
- Your name and date of birth, which you can prove with your current passports or birth certificates
- Proof of address
- The original civil partnership certificate
If the registrar is satisfied, a legal declaration will be drawn up for both of you to sign. The declaration states that you both agree to convert your civil partnership into a marriage and that you are happy becoming husbands or wives. The signing of the declaration will be followed by a ceremony. After the ceremony, the marriage will be registered and the marriage certificate will be issued.
Fees – for a standard version, the fee will be around 45 GBP. But if you choose to have a ceremony, depending on the kind of ceremony you are having, the amount will be higher. It’s all up to you to decide.
Ending a civil partnership
If the civil partnership isn’t working anymore, you may choose to informally separate and live apart. In most cases, this separation is done in court, maybe due to bitter disagreements between the partners, to the point where they can’t even agree on anything. But if the civil partners can agree on the terms of the separation, things can become much easier. This way, they will enter into a separation agreement, which is basically, a legally binding contract that sets out the rights and obligations of the partners to each other. The terms of the agreement can be arrived at through either negotiation through solicitors or through mediation. If the court is involved, the civil partnership dissolution will be handled the same way divorce is handled. For the decree of dissolution to be granted, the civil partners must have been separated and living apart for 2 to 3 years. However, it is important to note that even though civil partnerships are dissolved in a similar way to granting a divorce, the rules governing the dissolution are somewhat different from those of a divorce.
Orders such as maintenance orders, protection orders, and pension adjustment orders may be made while the dissolution case is going on, the same way it is done in judicial separation and divorce proceedings. However, unlike divorce proceedings, the legal advisers to the civil partners aren’t required to discuss the possibility of mediation, reconciliation, or other alternatives to dissolution. But the court may decide to adjourn the proceedings to facilitate such alternatives.
Civil partnerships aren’t that easy, which is why it is important that you find assistance from a family attorney, who will guide you throughout the process.