It has recently been widely publicised that legislation enabling same-sex couples to register as civil partners has been signed by the President and is expected to take effect from early next year.
Under the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 (the “Act”), civil partners can avail of many of the rights and protections conferred on married couples in areas such as property, maintenance, succession and pensions. Separate legislation is expected at the end of the year to change tax and social welfare laws and the Act is likely to be commenced when such changes are introduced.
What people may not be as aware of is that the Act also provides rights to cohabiting (same or opposite sex) couples on the termination of the relationship or on the death of one of the cohabitants where certain conditions are met. To qualify as a cohabitant, a person must:
- Be over 18
- Be in an intimate and committed relationship and living with this person
not be closely related
- Immediately before the relationship ended, have been living with this person for 5 years (2 years or more if they are the parents of dependent children)
Qualified cohabitants can apply for different orders, such as maintenance orders, if their relationship comes to an end. However, an order will only be granted if the applicant can show that they are financially dependent on the other cohabitant.
An interesting feature of the Act is that it allows cohabitants to “contract out” of various provisions mentioned above in the event of termination of the relationship or death of one of the cohabitants, provided certain conditions are met. Once the Act is commenced, it will be even more important to consider whether it is appropriate to enter into a co-ownership agreement dealing with rights under the Act.