Civil Partners will have;
Recognition under the intestacy rules
Recognition for immigration and nationality purposes
Employment and pension benefits on death
Ability to insure your partner against death
On dissolution, partners may have a right to; reasonable maintenance, entitlement to a share of the property, lump sum orders, property adjustment orders, and pension sharing orders.
Perhaps most importantly, lesbian and gay couples will be given the same tax rights as heterosexual married couples.
The only real difference between marriage and civil partnerships will be that couples won't be able to carry out the partnership ceremony in a church (or any religious place). However, there are a number of places throughout the country, such as the Metropolitan Community Church, that will carry out a commitment ceremony for you, even though you will of course have to officially tie the knot elsewhere.
Oh, and one other difference……ahem…..we don't think that there's any legal obligation to consumate the relationship, so that'll be a relief to those of us who prefer a nice cup of cocoa before going to sleep.
Civil Partnership ceremonies will have to take place in front of a CP Registrar and two witnesses. Already, we hear that Registry Offices in Brighton, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and boroughs of London have started taking "expressions of interest" from couples who are eager to tie the knot as soon as possible after 5 December 2005.
The civil partnership will be formed when the same-sex couple signs a civil partnership agreement and thereby makes a legal commitment to each other. Opposite sex couples cannot form a civil partnership, nor incidentally can mixed-sex people as they can already get married. In order for the partnership to be valid, the couple must;
Not be married,
Not already in a civil partnership,
Be over 16; and
Have their parents' consent if either is under 18
Don't jump into a civil partnership on a whim, thinking it's a good excuse for a nice day out followed by a week in Gran Canaria. These partnerships are going to be as difficult and heart-wrenching to dissolve as marriages currently are, sometimes with terrible emotional and financial consequences. So don't jump in feet first without fully understanding what you are letting yourself in for.
In Civil Partnership jargon, just as marriages can end in divorce, civil partnerships can end by "dissolution". The grounds for dissolution include;
Two years of separation with both party's consent to the dissolution,
Five years of separation without the requirement for consent, and
Desertion for a continuous period of two years.
Civil Partners will have all the same rights that married couples currently enjoy. These issues were not outlined in the Civil Partnership Act, but will be addressed in subsequent Finance Acts. It is perhaps wrong to describe these simply as "rights", as this suggests that all the effects are positive: but of course, they aren't. For example, at present, a same-sex couple could each own their own home, and both are treated as separate entities for the purpose of Capital Gains Tax (CGT), i.e. the owners don't have to pay CGT on their main residence. However, if this couple were to enter into a Civil Partnership, they will only be allowed one "main residence" between them, meaning that the second home would become liable to CGT.
In recent years, there's been a number of high profile cases whereby a surviving gay partner has faced a crippling tax bill, just at the time when they are least able to deal with it. Worse, if there's no will in place, the survivor can be forced out of the shared home by the deceased's relatives, who inherit some or all of it. This was because the law effectively treated same-sex partners as merely friends who were living together, rather than as a couple whose finances and lives were intricately linked.
This will now cease for two reasons; there will be no inheritance tax when possessions pass between civil partners, and the laws of intestacy will be altered so that surviving partners automatically inherit (up to certain limits if there are children, the same as with straight married couples).
This means that civil partners will need to make the same considerations as married couples have had to.
Insure your partner
One major aspect of the Civil Partnership Act which hasn't received much publicity is the fact that partners will obtain an "insurable interest" in their partner. (It probably didn't get much publicity because it sounds so dull!). But it means that same sex couples will be able to obtain insurance on the life of their partner. So, for example, if you stay and look after the home whilst your partner goes out to earn the cash, you can obtain insurance on your partner's life (and vice-versa). Previously, this was not always possible unless you jointly owned a home, even though one partner could be financially dependent on the other.
Some state benefits will be assessed on your joint income, which could result in a reduced amount of benefit should you need to claim. We can't really pretend to be experts in this particular area, so if you want to find out more about this, we'd recommend you contact your local DSS office..
As we know, many gay people choose to lead a different lifestyle to straight people and don't wish to fall into the "marriage" routine. For those who prefer to have passing relationships, the new rules will offer nothing. So if you have not tied the knot at the time of your death, for example, any surviving partner will have very few rights, unless you have made a comprehensive will . We'd suggest that these clients have a greater need to discuss their requirements with a financial adviser , as without doing so, their estate will pass according to pretty arbitrary rules, which often do not suit.
You'll become "jointly and severally" liable for some things, such as Council Tax. So the council can chase either party for the full balance owing should they choose. This is similar to any joint bank and mortgage accounts that you hold (this applies whether you are married or not).