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Civil Partnerships and Dissolution

Jennifer Weiner

"Divorce isn't such a tragedy. A tragedy's staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.”

We have extensive experience in dealing with all issues relating to same sex couples, from negotiating pre-marriage and pre-civil partnership agreements to negotiating through the separation, divorce and dissolution process. Since December 2005 it has been possible for same sex couples to enter into a civil partnership and since 29 March 2014 same sex couples have been able to get married.

Civil partnership is akin to a civil marriage and, in almost all respects, is legally equivalent:

  • Civil partners enjoy the same tax treatment as married couples
  • Civil partners can acquire parental responsibility for each other’s children in the same way as married couples
  • Civil partners may adopt a child or apply for a parental order (in respect of a surrogate child) in the same way as a married couple
  • The divorce process (known as dissolution) is the same as for divorce although the grounds for dissolution are slightly different
  • Financial settlements on dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as on divorce
  • Civil partnership agreements are treated in the same way as marriage agreements (pre-nups)

Same sex marriage

Since 29th March 2014, same sex couples have the option of getting married in England and Wales. However, there remain some important differences between same sex and opposite sex marriage:

While provision is made for religious same sex marriages, this is only possible if the religious group opts in. Clergy from the Church of England and the Church in Wales are currently prohibited from performing a same sex marriage

There is no requirement to consummate a same sex marriage (and, therefore, nullity on the basis of non-consummation is not available as a ground for divorce

Pension providers need only provide for survivor/widow’s benefits in respect of contributions from 5 December 2005, that is, the date of implementation of the CivilPartnership Act 2004

If a civil partnership breaks down

As with a divorce, you cannot apply for a dissolution until the first anniversary of the civil partnership. The procedure for dissolution of a partnership is the same as divorce; the major difference between the two is the terminology. Instead of petitioning for a divorce, a civil partnership, it is known as an application for dissolution.

Grounds for dissolution

These are the same as grounds for divorce, except adultery is not a ground for dissolution. This is because the legal definition of adultery states that a sexual relationship between a man and a woman is required. If your partner has been unfaithful, this would fall under the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

International jurisdictions

Other countries have a variety of schemes. The rights and responsibilities arising out of civil partnership or civil union schemes can differ significantly from equivalence to marriage (such as UK civil partnerships) to ones that largely confer tax benefits (such as the French PACS scheme, which is also available to opposite sex couples). The recognition provisions are patchy, and can give rise to very different rights and responsibilities compared with those that apply in the home country. Professional advice is therefore key to understanding the implications of the different schemes.

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We can answer any questions you have regarding civil partnerships, contact our expert divorce team today.

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