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Civil Partnership Act 2004

Passed by Parliament in 2004, the Civil Partnership Act will come into effect in England and Wales on Dec. 5, 2005, allowing same-sex couples to enter into legally binding partnerships from Dec. 21 onwards. Under this act, lesbian and gay couples have been granted legal status for the first time in England and Wales. The government has estimated that, by 2010, up to 22,000 people across the UK will have entered into a civil partnership.

In order to enter into a civil partnership in England or Wales, the couple must be of the same sex, not closely related and aged 16-years-old or over. The written consent of a parent or guardian is required, however, for anyone 16- or 17-years-old who wishes to enter into a civil partnership.

Following registration of their partnership, the couple will have specific rights and obligations under the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act, which broadly mirror those covered by civil marriage law. For example, the partners are obliged to provide reasonable maintenance for each other and for any dependent children, they are to be assessed for tax and benefits purposes in the same way as marriage partners, and they will be recognized as a couple under immigration and nationality law. Some of the legislation which will bring these rights and obligations into effect is still being finalized.

The procedure for registering a civil partnership is as follows. As for a marriage, couples who intend to form a civil partnership have to register their intent publicly for a minimum of seven days in their area or areas of residence, as well as in the area where they want the registration to take place. If no one objects, they can go ahead with registration after at least fifteen days have elapsed from the time they first declared their intent to form a civil partnership.

Registration itself has to take place in a building which has been specifically approved for the purpose, although the Act allows for registration within a personís own home if they are suffering from a serious illness and not expected to recover.

Under the Civil Partnership Act, all local authorities in England and Wales are required to provide a facility for the registration of civil partnerships. All those facilities that are currently approved for the registration of marriage will automatically be allowed to register civil partnerships, including hotels and other buildings, and new approvals of facilities will apply to both marriages and civil partnerships. A registration fee will be payable, as in the case of marriages.

The registration process consists of a simple procedure whereby the partners both sign the civil partnership document, witnessed by the registrar and two other people. Unlike a marriage ceremony, it is the signing of the document which makes the agreement legally binding, not spoken words. Under the provisions of the Act, It is permissible for the couple to hold a ceremony for the registration of their civil partnership, but not a religious service. All the forms and documents required for registration are to be available in both English and Welsh.

Following registration, the names of those who have formed civil partnerships will be made available for public inspection in local register offices for public inspection, but addresses will be withheld. If one of the partners wishes to change their surname following formation of the partnership, their registration certificate will be regarded by government departments as acceptable evidence of the name change.

Like a marriage, a civil partnership can only be dissolved through a legal procedure, or through the death of one of the partners. As in applications for divorce, evidence must be provided that the partnership has broken down irretrievably, due to unreasonable behaviour, separation for two years if the partner consents, or five years if the partner contests the application, or desertion for two years. If the court is satisfied that one of these conditions is fulfilled, dissolution of the partnership can take place.

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