The Civil Partnership Bill has recently taken a further step towards enactment when it was passed through the Seanad by an overwhelming majority. The Bill which will give people in long-term relationships many of the same statutory rights as married couples was first published in 2009. The legislation will allow same-sex couples to register their civil partnership for the first time and also recognises a number of other rights and obligations previously denied to them. Unmarried opposite-sex couples will be allowed to register, as will those in non-sexual relations such as cohabiting companions. Under the Bill, once a civil partnership is registered, the couple will be dealt with in the same way as a married couple by the Revenue Commissioners.
The new Bill puts in place a legal safety net for people living in long-term relationships who may be at risk financially on the dissolution of a relationship. It does so by finally recognising the legality of cohabitation agreements which allow cohabitants to stipulate their intentions with regards their financial and property affairs. The Bill continues to distinguish the place of marriage in our society and therefore does not place civil partnerships on an equal footing. However it does for the first time recognise and offer protection to same-sex relationships once the Civil Partnership is registered. The Bill further allows for the establishment of the Circuit Civil Partnership Court which will mean that the Circuit Court and the High Court will have jurisdiction concurrently to hear and determine issues relating to Civil Partnerships. Remedies may be sought by either party relating to such issues as maintenance and safety and barring orders. Whilst the distinction between marriage and civil partnership is clearly drawn throughout the Bill it does allow provision for a Decree of Dissolution to be obtained by either party similar to divorce or judicial separation proceedings. In order to obtain a decree of dissolution the court must be satisfied that at the date of the institution of the proceedings the Civil Partners have lived apart from one another for periods amounting to at least 2 years during the previous 3 years (compare with 4 years for divorce). To allow for the further recognition of the rights and duties afforded to Civil Partnerships the Bill proposes numerous amendments to existing legislation. These include the Domestic Violence Act, 1996 and the Family Home Protection Act, 1976. The most important amendment proposed concerns the Succession Act, 1965 allowing for the insertion of the word “Civil Partnership”. This amendment has obviously been proposed in consideration of the fact that applications under the Bill can be made by qualified cohabitants for provision from the Estate of a deceased cohabitant. A qualified cohabitant means a cohabitant who is living as a cohabitant with the Deceased for three years prior to the Deceased’s death or where there is a child of the relationship who was living with the cohabitant with the Deceased for two years immediately prior to the Deceased’s death.
Any proceedings issued under the Bill will have to be issued within a period of two from ending of the relationship between the cohabitants whether through death of one of the cohabitants or otherwise.
If you wish to obtain further information in relation to any point raised above, then please contact Joe or Daragh at Hassett Considine Solicitors LLP, 9 Carmody Street Business Park, Ennis, Co. Clare (065-6865480) or 19 Kilrush Town Centre, Kilrush, Co. Clare (065-9051588).