Pre-civil partnership agreements have the same status in law as pre-nuptial agreements between married couples. In other words, they are not automatically legally binding but they are generally honoured by the family courts as long as certain conditions were met when the agreement was signed. When deciding whether or not to do so during the dissolution of a pre-civil partnership, judges will want to make sure that:
- Both parties fully understood what they were signing and intended the document to define the division of their assets.
- Both parties made full disclosure of all relevant information when the document was first drafted.
- The agreement was signed voluntarily – i.e. neither partner signed it under duress or after being pressured.
- There is no reason to think the division of assets set out in the agreement would be unfair.
Therefore, to ensure your pre-civil agreement is fully respected by the courts, you will need to:
- Make a full disclosure of all the assets, money and property you own.
- Allow your partner to seek independent legal advice on the terms of the agreement: this is perhaps the most important step.
- Make sure your partner does not feel pressured to sign quickly.
- Don’t leave signing the agreement late. If you and your partner both signed months before the ceremony, it will be easier to convince a court that that it was signed willingly and so should be honoured when dividing assets.
- Update the agreement regularly. If the relationship lasts a long time your financial and family circumstances are very likely to change and a family court could decide the agreement is no longer fair and should be disregarded if the relationship ends and you separate. Draft the agreement to accommodate likely changes such as the arrival of children and the career breaks that often follow for one partner.
How did civil partnerships come about and how do they relate to marriage?
Civil partnerships are a legal alternative to marriage. They were originally devised to provide same sex couples with a way to formalise their relationship and acquire the legal rights and protections offered by marriage without its religious and cultural overtones. At the time opening traditional marriage up to same sex couples was still considered unacceptable by many. But social attitudes can change quickly – and less than a decade after the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised full marriage for gay couples.
However, the introduction of same sex marriage created an anomaly because civil partnerships were left in place. To some degree this was a matter of practicality – the many thousands of gay couples that had entered civil partnerships needed time to decide whether to convert their unions. But it also meant that people in a same sex relationship could choose a civil partnership or marriage, while heterosexual couples could only choose marriage. Unsurprisingly, this proved controversial and one particularly determined heterosexual couple took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court. There, in 2018, Justices concluded that the restricting civil partnerships to same sex couples was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The government quickly changed the law and so in December 2019, civil partnerships became an option for opposite sex couples too.
How is a pre-civil partnership agreement defined?
Pre-civil partnership agreements are the equivalent of the pre-nuptial agreement sometimes signed by those about to be married. These binding legal agreements specify how the couple’s assets – their money, their property – will be divided in the event of a dissolution (the civil partnership equivalent of a divorce). They list the assets and set out a fair and reasonable division of these if the relationship comes to an end.
People seek such agreements for different reasons: they may, for example have had bad experiences, with previous relationships ending in rancorous arguments over money. They may simply be wealthier than their partner and want to make sure their interests are protected if things go badly.
But whatever your reasons you may have for wanting a pre-civil partnership agreement, do think carefully about when you might ask your partner to sign. You may think of it as a mere formality – something to be squeezed in amongst all the other arrangements for your ceremony. But your partner might not see it that way, especially if you have never discussed such matters before. They may need time to think, consider the terms and seek their own independent legal advice if they have not already done so. If you to rush them into signing and the relationship later breaks down, they could argue in court that they only signed the agreement under duress. Family courts can and do set aside agreements in such circumstances.
So, plan carefully and sit down with your partner to sign your agreement well in advance of your civil partnership ceremony.