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What’s the difference between a partnership and a civil partnership?

Recent changes in the law have attempted to legally formalise unmarried partnerships in an attempt to afford the same rights to unmarried couples as those in civil partnerships and marriages. Unmarried partners are also commonly known for their committed intention to cohabit with their partners without formal and legal registration of their cohabitation.

To clarify, a civil partnership is a legally registered partnership between two individuals who are of the same gender. Unmarried partners, on the other hand, do not have a process available to allow registration of their relationship; a partnership refers to two individuals, whether of the same gender or opposite, whom are not married but live together as a committed couple.

Although the law has attempted to provide unmarried partners with the same rights those in civil partnerships, there are still major differences in terms of the rights and benefits available to those who are in an unmarried partnership compared to those who have entered into a civil partnership.

Individuals in a civil partnership who seek entry clearance or leave to remain have acquired the same rights as those who are married and wish to apply for a spouse visa. Consequently, the requirements for applying for a spouse visa are the same for those in a civil partnership. In accordance with this principle, those in a civil partnership are required to show that they meet the minimum income requirement of £18,600 and that they have adequate accommodation to house both.

Those in a civil partnership, as for those who are legally married, must demonstrate that their relationship is genuine and subsisting; there is also a requirement to show that the couple has resided together akin to marriage. This may at times be a more difficult requirement to meet for those in a civil partnership as they must provide sufficient evidence to show that the application is not made in order to evade the Immigration Rules. However, this is unlikely to be an issue if the applicant and sponsor have valid supporting documents showcasing their relationship from the beginning of their relationship to the present day.

If you are uncertain as to whether you are able to meet this requirement due to lack of evidence and supporting documents, please contact us today and our team of immigration experts will assess your circumstances in detail in order to assist you further.

Further to the above, those in a civil partnership must also meet the English language requirement which can be met if the applicant:

  1. has as obtained Level A1 of the Common European Framework in speaking and listening; or
  2. is a national of a majority speaking English country; or
  3. has successfully obtained a degree which was taught or researched in English; or
  4. has obtained a qualification equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or higher which has been confirmed by UK NARIC

Similarly, couples who are not married or in a civil partnership must also meet all of the above mentioned requirements in addition, to also demonstrating that the applicant and sponsor have been cohabiting, in other words living together, for at least 2 years prior to the date of application.

This is in accordance with Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules which defines a partner as:

  1. “the applicant’s spouse;
  2. the applicant’s civil partner;
  3. the applicant’s fiancé or proposed civil partner; or
  4. a person who has been living together with an applicant in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership for at least two years prior to date of application”

This is a significant difference to those in a civil partnership as they are not required to fulfil the two-year cohabitation requirement. It can, therefore, be argued that unmarried partners are required to work extra hard in proving their relationship which in turn suggests, that the law has still not given equal weight and importance to partnerships as it has given to civil partnerships.

The Home Office is quite specific in relation to the types of documents accepted to evidence the two-year cohabitation; it is not sufficient to merely provide one or two documents. The Home Office guidance policy has made it clear that an applicant and sponsor must provide documentation from at least three different sources for each year; documents can be in joint names or addressed separately to the applicant and sponsor if the documents show the same residential address for both. It is important to note, however, that only providing evidence of cohabitation will not deliver a successful outcome. The Home Office must be provided with sufficient evidence to show that the relationship between the applicant and sponsor is a genuine, long term relationship.

If you are intending on making an application for an unmarried partner’s visa, contact us for a confidential and in-depth discussion on how to make a successful application to the Home Office.

How does the difference impact procedures and remedies in family law?

As mentioned previously, same-sex couples can legally register their relationship by entering into a civil partnership in accordance with the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Those in a civil partnership therefore, have certain rights in the event of the dissolution of the civil partnership, similar to the rights of those following divorce.

The grounds for the dissolution of a civil partnership are similar to those petitioning for divorce.

As such, the grounds for dissolution is that the relationship has irretrievably broken down and the reasons can include:

  1. unreasonable behaviour – this also covers situations relating to unfaithfulness as it includes having an intimate relationship with another, irrespective of their gender. Adultery can only be relied upon as a reason for divorce due to the definition of adultery.
  2. two years separation with consent from the respondent;
  3. five years separation, no consent required; or
  4. desertion.

During the process of dissolution, either party has the right to make an application for financial or ancillary relief and the court can take into account civil partnership property which includes, the property resided at, vehicles and any savings.

However, unmarried partners who are cohabiting together, do not have any legal rights which can place both parties at risk of being left with nothing regardless of how much investment was made during the partnership. This is the current state for unmarried partners as the law has not yet provided a registration process to legally recognise a partnership.

Unmarried partners do, however, have the option of entering into a Cohabitation Agreement as this agreement can assist partners in confirming the financial aspects of their relationship as well as issues surrounding property owned jointly. If you are concerned as to the stability of your future following the breakdown of your relationship, contact us and our team of family law specialists will discuss your concerns with you in a friendly and professional manner.

The breakdown of a partnership can be extremely difficult for unmarried fathers with children due to the issues relating to parental responsibility following the breakdown of a relationship.  Parental responsibility ascertains who has the right to make important decisions regarding a child. It is important to note that mothers acquire parental responsibility automatically however, the father of a child will only acquire automatic parental responsibility if he was married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s birth. This is obviously an issue for unmarried partners who have children as the father can potentially not have parental responsibility for his children. The law currently states that the father of a child born after 1 December 2003 will have parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate. If, however, the child was born before 1 December 2003, the father will not have parental responsibility.

The differences between a partnership and civil partnership are extremely obvious from an immigration and family law perspective as it is clear that the law has thus far, failed to award unmarried partners with equal rights compared to the extensive rights given to those in a civil partnership.

Contact us for a detailed discussion if you are concerned about the breakdown of your partnership or civil partnership. We have highly experienced solicitors who deal with complex legal cases daily, involving both immigration and family law matters.

Call us on 020 3372 5125 or complete our online enquiry form for a free assessment.

Please call us on 020 3372 5125 or get an online consultation




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