On 1st January 2011, the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 came into force. A civil partnership is legal recognition of a relationship between same-sex couples in Ireland for the first time. A civil partnership and a civil marriage are entered into in very similar ways. Former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern once described the Civil Partnership Act as “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation since independence”.
Due to exceptional circumstances two civil partnerships took place early in February. A couple usually has to give three months notice before their civil partnership ceremony takes place and last Tuesday, 5th April, the first couple to do so had their civil partnership ceremony.
The Civil Partnership Act is two-fold as it provides for both the civil registration of same-sex partnerships and the rights and duties of cohabiting couples. Effectively the civil partnership is akin to marriage for opposite sex couples with virtually all the same statutory rights and obligations conferred upon the civil partners including maintenance, property, succession, pensions, social welfare and tax. As with civil marriage, a couple must give a minimum of three months written notice to the county Registrar of the county they want their ceremony to take place in. When the county Registrar issues a ‘civil partnership registration form’ the couple have 6 months to enter into their civil partnership in a registry office or approved venue. A judge can waive the three month notice period on compassionate grounds e.g. serious illness of one of the partners.
While the Act does bring Irish law into line with modern society, civil partnerships still differ from civil marriage, in particular in terms of adoption and guardianship of children. The Act does not give non-biological parents any legal rights in respect of their children’s educational and medical wellbeing. However, in its Legal Aspects of Family Relationships report in December 2010 the Law Reform Commission recommends the extension of guardianship to civil partners.
Along with laws on civil partnership equality legislation has been updated so service providers such as hospitals must treat civil partners in the same way they treat traditional married couples.
Additionally, the Act sets out how civil partnerships may be dissolved and the conditions. Dissolving a civil partnership is similar to divorce, and the civil partners must have been living apart for two out of three years directly prior to dissolution. Proper provision will be made for the financially dependent partner and payments in respect of maintenance, property, their home and pensions.