Family law in Ireland changed dramatically on 1 January 2011 when civil partnership legislation became law.
This legislation, with the rather cumbersome title The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, gives wide ranging rights and obligations to same sex and cohabiting couples. It is known for short as “The Civil Partnership Act”.
It also establishes a civil partnership registration scheme for same sex couples.
This allows same sex couples to register their relationship in much the same way as a civil marriage. The ceremony for registration is virtually identical to a civil marriage and brings with it most of the rights and obligations of marriage to include:
- The responsibility to support and maintain each other financially;
- Inheritance and succession rights very similar to those of spouses;
- Entitlement to pension benefits; and
- Protection from domestic violence;
Civil partners should revise their wills after they register their partnership as the registration will revoke any previous wills (as is the case with married couples).
Those who have recently registered their civil partnership should notify their employer and nominate their partner as the person that they wish to benefit from any death in service payment.
Equally, employers should bear in mind that civil partners must have the same status at work. For example if there is a VHI benefit provided to the spouse or family of a worker, this should be extended to civil partners. HR Departments and pension providers should be made aware of the civil registration.
Civil partners will be treated like married couples when it comes to taxation. For example, civil partners can opt for joint assessment. Equally civil partners will not be liable for stamp duty where one partner transfers property to another and will not be liable for inheritance or gift tax.
Similarly, civil partners will be treated like married couples when it comes to social welfare. For example a widow’s/widower’s pension will be available to a surviving civil partner.
Should a civil partnership break down, a Court can grant a decree of dissolution if it is satisfied that the civil partners have lived apart from each other for a period of two out of the previous three years and that proper provision exists or is made for the civil partners.
A Court can make any or all of the following orders when civil partners separate:
- Maintenance/financial support;
- Lump sum payment;
- Property adjustment order;
- Occupation of a shared home;
- Sale of a shared home;
- Life Assurance;
- Pension adjustment order;
- Retention or extinguishment of succession rights.