PinkNews brings you the latest in a series of features which sees your real questions answered by leading lawyers at Simpson Millar.
The latest question comes from a person who is unsure of whether they want to enter into a civil partnership or a marriage, and of the differences between the two.
The reader asks: “We are a couple currently considering whether to get married or enter a civil partnership. We’ve heard civil partnerships might not provide the same level of legal protection around the world – is this true?”
A Simpson Millar lawyer says: “It is an extremely personal decision when deciding on whether to enter into a marriage or civil partnership and as long as you are aware of the differences then there should be no surprises later down the line.
“Civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples. Same-sex and heterosexual couples can get married in England, Scotland and Wales, but same-sex marriage is not available in Northern Ireland.
“Civil partnerships are the UK Government’s approach to giving comparable rights to same-sex couples as those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.”
Adding: “This means that civil partners will be treated equally to married couples in a wide range of legal matters, such as:
- Tax, including inheritance tax
- Employment benefits
- Most state and occupational pension benefits
- Income-related benefits, tax credits and child support
- Duty to provide reasonable maintenance for your civil partner and any children of the family
- Ability to apply for parental responsibility for your civil partner’s child
- Inheritance of a tenancy agreement
- Recognition under intestacy rules
- Access to fatal accidents compensation
- Protection from domestic violence
- Recognition for immigration and nationality purposes
- But there are some differences that you may wish to consider before making this decision.
The lawyer goes on: “If a same-sex couple is married and a child is born, both parents automatically receive parental responsibility for the child. In the event of divorce, either person can also be ordered to pay maintenance to their former spouse if they were financially dependent on them.
“This differs for civil partners, as same-sex civil partners do not automatically receive parental responsibility for their partner’s children but they can apply for it through the courts. If you are in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of birth, or where you have an agreement with the child’s mother, you can apply for parental responsibility.
“Our Family team will be able to walk you through the process of applying for parental responsibility and answer any questions you have.”
“Civil partners do not have the same pension rights as married couples. If one civil partner dies, the pension share that the surviving partner receives is often lower and lasts for less time than that for married couples.”
Adding: “This is because the pension that a surviving partner is entitled to is measured differently depending on whether they have been civil partnered or married. For civil partners, public sector schemes are dated back to 1988. For private sector schemes, it need only be backdated to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. But for married couples, a surviving partner is entitled to a pension based on the number of years their spouse paid into the pension fund.”
“Travel restrictions apply to civil partners but not married couples. Countries like Sweden, Argentina and Portugal, where same-sex marriage is legal, do not see civil partnerships as marriage.
“This means UK civil partners living abroad do not enjoy the same rights as same-sex married couples in the 11 countries where equal marriage is legal.
“On top of this, the marriages of foreign gay couples who travel to the UK are not legally viewed as marriages.
“If you are planning to live in another country, it’s a good idea to speak to one of our Family Law experts before you move to make sure that you understand what rights you have.”
Adultery and vows
“Unlike marriages, consummation is not a legal requirement of civil partnerships. Neither is adultery recognised as grounds for dissolution. These differences won’t be addressed by the new equal marriage legislation as the Government does not intend to rewrite these areas of law.
“The legal definition of adultery means it can only take place between a man and a woman, although other forms of infidelity may amount to unreasonable behaviour.
“There is also no requirement for civil partners to take any vows.”
Civil partnerships cannot take place in a church. Gay marriage can be a church ceremony with the exception of the Anglican Church and other religions that do not allow same-sex marriage.
“To find out more or if you need some legal support, feel free to get in touch with one of Simpson Millar’s Family Law solicitors on 0800 260 5005 or click here to request a call-back.”
Disclosure: Simpson Millar is a PinkNews advertiser