Civil Partnerships for opposite-sex couples: key changes

From New Year’s Eve this year (2019), the first heterosexual civil partnerships will be formed. Opposite-sex couples have been able to give notice of their intention to form a civil partnership since 2 December; there is a 28-day notice period.

The change in the law introduced by the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 followed a case earlier this year where heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan from London won their legal bid for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of the couple, stating that the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which only applied to same-sex couples, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Some couples have opted for a civil partnership over marriage because it is free of the religious connotations of marriage and some object to marriage as an institution and its associations with property and patriarchy. Conversely, some argue that they are unnecessary in a society where marriage has already been redefined for many.

Here are some of the key changes to the law surrounding civil partnerships:

  • Religious protection
  • Religious premises can be approved for all civil partnerships.
  • Religious organisations or persons acting on their behalf cannot be compelled to do specified acts (such as allowing religious premises to be used for civil partnerships), if they do not wish to, either in respect of all civil partnerships, or those between same-sex or opposite-sex couples.
  • There can be no religious element to the civil partnership proceedings.
    The term “proceedings” is defined in the regulations as the formation of civil partnerships, which will remain the secular signing of the schedule by the parties to the proposed civil partnership, the two witnesses and the civil partnership registrar. However, these regulations provide for a non-statutory religious ceremony which may take place before or after the civil partnership formation.

  • Parenthood
  • Legislation about children and parenthood is amended to provide opposite-sex parents in civil partnerships with generally the same rights as opposite-sex married parents.
  • For example, presumed paternity and parental status in assisted reproduction cases, from cases where a child’s mother and father are married, to cases where their mother and father are in a civil partnership.
  • Provides for opposite-sex parents in civil partnerships to have the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex married parents, in respect of parental responsibility and registration of births.
  • Gender recognition
  • Until now, because of the same-sex requirement of civil partnerships, one civil partner could not obtain a gender recognition certificate unless both partners did on the same date. The law has been amended to enable individuals to apply for a gender recognition certificate to change their sex and gender in law without the need to dissolve their civil partnership, provided the other civil partner consents.
  • Conversion rights
  • Currently, the law does not allow opposite-sex couples to convert their civil partnership to marriage, whilst same-sex couples continue to be able to do so.
  • There was a public consultation on the future of conversion rights and further regulations on this issue may follow in 2020.
  • Pensions
  • The regulation amends public service schemes to bring them in line with the new opposite-sex civil partnerships.
  • In relation to occupational pension schemes, trustees will need to check whether the scheme rules need to be amended as a consequence of the recent regulations, for instance, in relation to death benefits for opposite-sex civil partners.
  • Grounds for divorce/dissolution
  • Unlike divorce, adultery is still not a ground for dissolution of a civil partnership.

If you would like advice on the legal implications of forming a civil partnership, please contact our Banbury or London office.

Article by Rachel Elliott, Associate Solicitor