With yet more articles in the press about heterosexual couples wanting civil partnerships, I started to look at what the differences are.
I've recently been splitting ownership of a property with an ex, and what I've uncovered is quite shocking... so much so I wanted to share it. I started to look into the matter of marriage vs. civil partnerships and also co-habiting and travel abroad.
The results, hopefully some useful information of how a marriage or civil partnership (to a lesser degree) can benefit you when it comes to rights and finances around property, pensions and even travel.
Property Ownership Transferring
If joint owners are unmarried and not in a civil partnership when they transfer an interest in land or property from one joint owner to another then you may have to pay Stamp Duty.
Therefore, if you jointly own a property and are separating, it is important to sort out the property before you divorce.
If you are looking to add a partner to a property, think about the Stamp Duty implications before you do it.
In the UK a marriage and a civil partnership are both adequate for property ownership.
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 with married couples.
The reason for this is the pension 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.
So for the best possible pension support for a surviving partner, marriage is the best option.
Travel and Immigration
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.
So if you are looking to emigrate or travel, it would be sensible to consider marriage to ensure that your relationship is recognised.
Separation and divorce
Unlike marriages, consummation is not a legal requirement of civil partnerships. Neither is adultery recognized as grounds for dissolution. These differences won’t be addressed by the new equal marriage legislation as the government does not intend to re-write these areas of law.
It is difficult to predict what might happen in a relationship, however adultery allows a quicker divorce. Given adultary isn't recognised you could have to wait up to two years to start a divorce, and my experience is the process can take up to a year so if you don't want to drag it out, marriage is definitely the better option.
I would also suggest a pre-nup. Often considered about protecting a wealthy individual, pre-nups are actually much more common and recommended for anyone. It protects against future income and sets out expectations. Particularly helpful for property ownership, children and where one partner earns significantly more than the other.
Gender is written into the structure of UK marriage law. This means if a married trans person would like to get a Gender Recognition Certificate as part of living in their preferred gender, they must divorce and reapply for civil partnership.
Separate marriage and civil partnership regulations mean gender and orientation are the deciding factors in what relationships are legally recognised.
Some say as much as 0.2% of the population is intersex and there is a growing community of non-binary trans and genderqueer people. For them a ‘separate but equal’ system does not necessarily reflect a more complex reality.
A civil partnership is definitely the less secure option both financially, and also in relation to recognition of your relationship internationally. So I really don't understand why so many heterosexual couples want it. I mean, I get that the church has really pushed that marriage is a religious thing, and so there is a common misunderstanding that marriage is linked to religion, however this is not the case. A common law marriage does not have any link to the church or religion.
I think also perhaps the actual differences have not been explained properly. It is perhaps a failing of the communications around the fact that civil partnerships were rushed into force, and were not actually sufficient. They were designed as a quick win to pass for the LGBT+ people campaigning. They are not equal, which is why the marriage equality movement continued, and why marriages were brought in, and people allowed to convert.