Civil Partnership registration is the equivalent of marriage for same sex couples. The procedures to register are also very similar and can be found at www.groireland.ie.
To March 2013 over 1,000 civil partnership registrations have taken place in every county of Ireland. In addition, many same sex marriages and civil partnerships registered abroad are now recognised in Ireland as civil partnerships.
Sadly some of these relationships will fail and in those circumstances either partner can seek dissolution from the court or the court will make ancillary financial relief orders similar to those available in the context of separation or divorce and will have regard to similar statutory factors.
As with marriage, the registration of a civil partnership brings with it a range of recognitions, responsibilities and protections which relate to such areas as maintenance, shared homes, succession, taxation, domestic violence, social welfare and pensions.
Pre-Civil Partnership Agreements
Consequences of Civil Partnerships
Shared Home Protection
- The Act allows a civil partner to apply to a court for maintenance during the course of the relationship where the other civil partner has failed to maintain him or her.
- Maintenance cannot be ordered where the applicant has deserted the other civil partner unless the court takes the view that, in all the circumstances of the case, it would be unjust not to make the order.
- The factors which a court must take into account when deciding on the appropriate level of maintenance include the assets of each partner, their income earning capacity and the financial or other responsibilities of the civil partners towards each other and each of the partners as a parent towards any dependent children and the needs of any dependent children and the responsibilities that each civil partner has towards any former spouse or civil partner. Conduct is not considered unless the court is of the opinion that in all the circumstances it would be unjust to disregard it.
- The Act also provides for attachment of earnings orders.
It is worth noting that there is no provision in the Act for maintenance for a dependent child of one of the civil partners, a clear distinction from the 1976 Act. Within the 1976 Act the definition of a dependent child of the family includes a dependent child of either spouse in relation to whom the other spouse is in loco parentis, that is that the other spouse has, in the knowledge that he is not the parent of the child, treated the child as a member of the family. Given that same sex relationships could easily involve children from a previous relationship it seems curious that such children are not afforded the same rights as those in a marriage. It remains to be seen whether the courts will in fact consider such a dependent child when making a maintenance order in favour of a civil partner.
Recognition of Foreign Civil Partnerships
The Act provides for the recognition of foreign civil partnerships provided that the following conditions are met:
- The relationship is exclusive in nature.
- The relationship is permanent unless dissolved.
- The parties are not within the prohibited degrees of relationship.
- The relationship has been registered under the law of that jurisdiction.
- The rights and obligations attended on that relationship or in the opinion of the Minister for Justice are sufficient to indicate that the relationship will be treated comparably to a civil partnership.
Similar provisions are set out in Section 5 of the Act with regard to dissolutions of partnerships abroad.
Termination of a Civil Partnership
As regards annulment, Part 11 of the Act sets out the grounds on which a nullity can be granted. Essentially the Act states that a nullity can be granted if, at the time civil partnership was registered, either or both of them lacked the capacity to become a civil partner for any reason, including:
- Either or both were under 18 years of age.
- Either or both were already in a valid marriage.
- Either or both were already in a valid civil partnership.
- The formalities for registration were not observed.
- Either or both did not give free and informed consent.
- The parties were in prohibited degrees of relationship.
- The parties were not of the same sex.
Where a court grants a decree of nullity to civil partners the partnership is declared not to have existed and either civil partner may therefore register a new civil partnership or marry. Section 104 of the Act provides for a summary procedure for civil partners whose partnership has been annulled to deal with the property aspects of their relationship.
Decree of Dissolution
Part 12 of the Act deals with the dissolution of civil partnerships and the phrase dissolution is used instead of the word divorce. The principal difference between dissolution and divorce lie in the grounds for the grant of a dissolution. These are contained in Section 108 of the Act and provide that a Court may grant a decree of dissolution if it is satisfied that:
- At the date of the institution of the proceedings the civil partners have lived apart from one another for a period of or a period amounting to at least two years during the previous three years; and
- Provision that the court considered proper having regard to the circumstances exists or will be made for the civil partners.
One of the biggest differences between dissolution and divorce is that the length of separation required for a dissolution is two years as opposed to four years in the case of divorce (as civil partnership is not constrained by the Constitution). However, unlike marriage there is no option to take Judicial Separation proceedings until the two years are up with the result that one partner could be left in difficult financial circumstances for that period of time. In granting a Decree of Dissolution, a court need only consider provision for the other partner and not for any dependent member of the civil partnership. This is in sharp contrast to the position on divorce where, pursuant to the 1996 Act, a spouse can be made liable for his or her non-biological child.