Civil partnerships are about more than a party and a chance for a wedding list, It gives couples important legal rights and responsibilities. We explain exactly what it all means, and how you do it.
Civil Partnership is a legal relationship exclusively for same-sex couples - but to all intents and purposes it is the same as marriage. There are differences in the language used - but not really any differences in the rights they give you.
Just like marriage, a civil partnership:
- Makes you each other's closest relation in the eyes of the law, enabling you to inherit from each other, even where there is no will;
- Exempts you from Inheritance Tax on any property that passes between you;
- Gives you the right to receive bereavement benefit if your partner dies, and the right to a state pension based on your partner's National Insurance contributions if you are due to retire after April 2010 (the same rights as husbands);
- Gives you the right to receive Fatal Accidents Compensation if one of you dies;
- Entitles you to occupational pensions and fringe employment benefits on the same basis as married employees at your workplace;
- Enables you to apply for Parental Responsibility for your partner's child;
- Gives you rights for immigration and nationality purposes - if your civil partner is a British Citizen or person settled here, you can apply for two years’ leave to enter or remain in the UK, and if the partnership is still going strong at the end of these two years you can apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Just like marriage, civil partnership also gives you responsibilities - you become legally responsible for financially supporting each other, and any children of the family, even if you break up. Similarly, if you break up, you have to go through a process just like divorce, and have to prove to a court that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. (For more details on ending a civil partnership, see Divorce - a survival toolkit).
Who can form a civil partnership?
Any two people of the same sex and over 16 years of age can form a civil partnership - provided they aren't closely related, or married/registered as the civil partner of someone else. You might need written consent from your parents if you are under 18.
You don't need to have a ceremony to form a civil partnership (you and your witnesses just need to sign the register), but most couples choose to have one. They are usually very similar to a wedding ceremony. Technically the ceremony isn't called a wedding but a 'civil partnership formation' (now there's a snappy title to put on your invites!).
You can have your civil partnership formation at a register office or at any 'approved venue'. These include many (but not all) of the same hotels, restaurants, stately homes, museums, and other buildings that people get married in. You can search for an approved venue on Directgov (see 'Links to other websites'). The Equality Act will enable couples to form their civil partnership as part of a religious ceremony in a religious venue - if the particular religious venue is willing. This is expected to come into force In October 2010.
If you are not forming your civil partnership in a religious setting then (like a civil wedding ceremony) the ceremony cannot include any religious elements.
You can do what you like regarding other aspects. You can include your own personal touches (provided they are non-religious). If you want a best man or best woman you can have one. The only thing that must happen is that you need to bring two witnesses to sign the civil partnership register.
You can have the ceremony in Welsh as long as both you, your partner, your witnesses, and your registrar will all be able to understand what is being said.
It costs you £30 each to give notice, plus another £40 if you're doing it at a registry office, so the cheapest you can do it for is £100 altogether. If you're having your do somewhere other than the registry office, the registration authority in question sets the price, separate from the hire fee for the building itself - get in touch with them once you've worked out your budget.
What if I don't want to register my partnership?
Of course, many gay and lesbian couples don't want to register their partnership for exactly the same reasons that many heterosexual couples don't want to get married.
The rights of cohabiting same-sex couples are now almost exactly the same as cohabiting heterosexual couples.
For further information on your rights if you are living with your partner and are not hurrying up the aisle, see the LivingTogether pages for indepth information and help on all the issues.