The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights & Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 (the “Act”) came into effect from 1 January 2011. It makes fundamental changes in the law by introducing legal protection, for the first time, to two types of existing relationships namely civil partners and certain cohabitants which fall outside of the constitutional definition of the family.
The bulk of the Act deals with the recognition of civil partnerships which are partnerships which can be registered under the Civil Registration Act, 2004 by same sex couples. A ‘Civil partner’ is defined as either of two persons of the same sex who are parties to a civil partnership registration, which has not been dissolved or annulled. The Act further provides for recognition of foreign registered civil partnerships.
After a Civil Partnership has been registered the Act confers rights on each of the partners with regard to:
- pension rights,
- succession rights,
- maintenance rights,
- protection under domestic violence legislation and of the shared home.
Dissolution of civil partnership
A Court can grant a decree dissolving a civil partnership where, after the date of institution of the Court proceedings, the partners have lived apart from one another for at least two out of the previous three years and where proper provision has been made. In order to ensure proper provision is made upon dissolution of a registered partnership, the Act empowers the Court to make a range of ancillary financial orders including maintenance or lump sum payment orders, property adjustment orders, order for sale of property or relating to occupation of property (such as the shared home) and pension adjustment orders.
The Act does not provide for the right to marry and is largely silent on the rights and needs of children. The child of one civil partner has no legal relationship with the other civil partner and civil partners cannot jointly adopt.
A cohabitant is defined in the Act as one of two adults (whether of the same or opposite sex) who live together in an intimate and committed relationship; who are not related to each other within certain prohibited degrees of relationship and who are not married to each other or civil partners of each other.
A cohabitant is only entitled to seek financial orders under the Act if that person is a Qualified Cohabitant. A Qualified Cohabitant, under the Act, is an adult who was living in an intimate relationship of cohabitation with another adult as a couple for 5 years or more, or 2 years where there is a child or children of the relationship. However, if one of the adults is still married, then neither of the couple may be a qualified cohabitant until the married person has been living apart from his/her spouse for at least 4 out of the previous 5 years (in effect until he/she is entitled to seek a divorce).
An individual who is a Qualified Cohabitant can apply to Court for a range of orders similar to, although not quite as extensive as, those available to a married couple who separate or divorce. The range of potential reliefs available include:
- Property adjustment orders
- Maintenance payments and lump sum payment orders
- Pension adjustment orders
- Provision out of the estate of the deceased cohabiting partner.
However, neither individual has any automatic right to such orders as provision of same are at the discretion of the Court where it is satisfied that one individual was financially dependent on the other cohabitant partner.
Couples who do not wish to be bound by the legislation must expressly opt out of the redress scheme in a cohabitation agreement.
For further information on the above, please contact Joseph O’Hara at oharasolicitors.com