Civil Partnerships - What happens when civil partners separate?
What is a civil partnership?
In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act came into force allowing same-sex couples to obtain the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, both during their relationship and upon any subsequent separation. Many of these rights and responsibilities relate to property ownership, taxation exemptions and children issues as prior to this time, same-sex couples were not afforded such legal protections and were treated the same way as cohabiting couples. For example, the rule of survivorship now applies to civil partners just like married couples and allows jointly owned property to pass automatically to one civil partner upon the other civil partners’ death. This rule does not apply to cohabitants in the same way.
What happens when civil partners separate?
If the relationship between civil partners comes to an end, the couple need to dissolve their civil partnership in order to regain their single status. This is done by issuing a Petition for Dissolution in the local Family Court and seeking a Decree of Dissolution.
Like married couples wishing to divorce, the civil partnership (like the marriage) needs to be at least a year old before either civil partner can apply for a dissolution. The dissolution is based on the "irretrievable breakdown" of the civil partnership and proven on either a) the unreasonable behaviour of one of the civil partners, b) desertion, c) separation of 2 years with consent or d) separation of 5 years without consent.
What are the financial consequences of dissolution?
Before and during their relationship, civil partners often build up assets and liabilities in their sole and joint names and these must be settled between the partners when the relationship comes to an end. For example, civil partners may own a property in their joint names which is subject to a mortgage and an agreement will need to be reached between them about the future of this property, and whether it is going to be sold or transferred to one of the partners.
Similarly to married couples, civil partners are advised to reach a mediated or a negotiated agreement in relation to financial matters and for such agreement to be placed with a Consent Order to take effect upon the grant of their Decree of Dissolution. A Consent Order creates a legally binding and enforceable Court Order between the partners and acts in full and final settlement of all financial claims that either partner can make against the other in respect of the civil partnership and against the others estate upon death.
Where civil partners are unable to reach such an agreement, under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 either partner has the power to commence financial proceedings against the other to enable the Court to make a decision as to how the assets and liabilities of the civil partnership are to be divided between them.
If financial matters are not resolved upon dissolution, the financial claims between the partners will remain open until they are dismissed, meaning that either partner runs the risk of a potential claim from the other even if many years after the dissolution of their civil partnership.
For further information on civil partnerships or any other aspect of family law, please contact Lorna Barry or Kirsty Bowers.