Posted by Andrew Nellist, Partner
Why choose a civil partnership over marriage?
Recently a British couple made use of the new laws in the Isle of Man (passed on 19 July 2016) allowing heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership. The Isle of Man is currently the only place in the British Isles where both gay and straight couples can enter into a civil partnership.
The law as it stands in England and Wales says that couples from different sexes cannot enter into a civil partnership – the only option available to them is ‘marriage.’
However, for same sex couples if you are 16 or over and free to form a civil partnership (single, divorced or widowed), you can either enter into a civil partnership or get married.
Why would you prefer a civil partnership over marriage?
A couple’s reasons for preferring a civil partnership over marriage may be varied. For most it may be because of the religious element to the constitution of a marriage even though marriages need not now be a religious ceremony.
The couple in this story are reported as saying that they do intend to marry at some future date but they saw the benefits of first entering into a civil partnership, which are the same as entering into a marriage. There are many benefits some of which are listed below:
1. A civil partner does not have automatic parental rights over their partner’s children but has a general duty to safeguard the health and welfare of children under 16 who live in the household. If a child is conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009, a civil partner can be the second legal parent and have automatic parental responsibilities and rights towards the child. Civil partners can adopt a child together.
2. Civil partners are treated as any other couple who are living together when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits and tax credits. Your resources and requirements are jointly assessed. A surviving civil partner can claim bereavement benefits, or in some cases, a retirement pension based on a partner’s national insurance contributions.
3. It is against the law for an occupational pension scheme not to offer the same rights to a civil partner as a married partner. You may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your civil partner’s national insurance contributions. A civil partner is entitled to a share of an ex-partner’s pension if the relationship is formally ended, for example by dissolution. If your civil partner dies, you may also be entitled to a share of an occupational or private pension.
4. Civil partners have an equal duty to maintain each other.
5. A civil partner is always acceptable as next of kin.
6. A couple can separate informally but will need to go to court to dissolve the civil partnership.
7. Both civil partners have a right to remain in the home unless a court has ordered otherwise.
8. If your civil partner dies without leaving a Will, you will get the home, contents, and part of the remaining estate. If your civil partner does leave a Will which leaves little or nothing to you, you can claim legal rights to part of the estate.
So will England and Wales follow?
There are a number of cases currently going though the courts where different sex couples are arguing that it is a breach of their human rights not to be able to enter into a civil partnership as you can in the Isle of Man, so I believe England and Wales may well follow this course in the future.
On 2 November 2016 the High Court heard an appeal against the ruling not to allow heterosexual sex couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK, with the judgment expected to be reserved.
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