Andrew Smith - The Future of Civil Partnerships

The Future of Civil Partnerships - Andrew Smith

In March 2014 the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 created the availability of marriagefor same sex couples in England and Wales. This followed the Civil Partnership Act 2004which introduced Civil Partnerships.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that since the introduction of marriage for same sex couples in 2014, the numbers of civil partnerships has been falling. In 2013 (just before the introduction of marriage) there were 6,276 civil partnerships; in 2014 there were 2,229 and in 2015 there were just 1,014.

In contrast, between March 2014 and June 2015 there were 7,366 marriages formed between same sex couples in England and Wales and between December 2014 and June 2015 there were 7,732 civil partnerships converted into marriages.

So what is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

As a family solicitor dealing mainly with the end of a relationship, practically there isn’t that much difference between a civil partnership and a marriage. Civil partners have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in many areas.

The main differences are similar to those between a religious marriage and a civil ceremony between heterosexual couples; certainly with regard to the formation, the ceremony, the administrative process and the certificates.

In terms of family law whilst the legal regimes are different regarding the particular statutes, the reliefs available to separating civil partners and married couples (whether same sex orheterosexual) are practically identical.

The terminology is different – a married couple will have a ‘divorce’ whilst civil partners will have ‘dissolution’ – but the financial reliefs available to these separating couples are the same. A civil partner going through dissolution will be able to make financial claims for capital, income, pensions etc just the same as a married partner going through a divorce.

Somewhat controversially, one of the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage is that civil partners are unable to cite the specific fact of Adultery as the reason for why the civil partnership has broken down, the reason being that the definition of adultery is sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage. Civil partners will instead have to use the unfaithfulness as one of a number of examples of Unreasonable Behaviour. This often leads to animosity in the resulting divorce/dissolution proceedings.

The future of civil partnerships

Bearing in mind that same sex couples are now able to marry and the numbers of civil partnerships are falling, in 2014 the coalition government at the time produced a consultation paper (Civil Partnership Review (England and Wales): a consultation).

Feature questions in the consultation were whether civil partnerships should be abolished and converted into marriages; should there be a cessation of new civil partnerships but retaining existing ones;and whether civil partnerships should be opened up to opposite sexcouples.

The majority of responses to these three questions were in the negative and so the government at the time decided to do nothing. There has however been recent activity to challenge the stance on civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, including a case at the Court of Appeal and a Bill in Parliament.

The position at the moment is ‘as you were’ and is unlikely to change until at least the judgement in the appeal case and also when there has been further time to review the impact of same sex marriage.