It still comes as a surprise to many people when consulting a solicitor about relationship breakdown that at present unless they are married, the rights of such a couple are extremely limited.
This is about to change. Our current government has committed to “legislate for civil partnership at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government”. The Civil Partnership Bill 2009 which was introduced in the Dail in June 2009 is a key step towards honouring that commitment however the Bill must be enacted before it becomes legislation. The Bill goes through its second stage this month and it is likely to be very keenly debated.
The Civil Partnership Bill 2009 if enacted would establish a statutory civil partnership registration scheme for couples in same sex relationships. The provision to register a civil partnership is confined to same sex couples. Co-habiting opposite sex couples come under separate provisions and I will come back to those in a later paragraph. Returning to same sex couples, however, such registration would have the effect of conferring rights, protections and obligations on those couples very similar to those of married couples. Areas covered include, but are not limited to, the home in which the couple reside, pensions, maintenance, violence and inheritance. The Bill defines who qualifies as a civil partner for the purposes of registration. It also sets out the manner in which civil partnerships may be dissolved. Clearly there is no obligation to register and even if a couple are not registered the Bill still seeks to provide protections for such a couple in the event of their relationship breaking down. Such provisions apply both to cohabiting same sex and opposite sex couples. In one crucial respect however, the Bill differs from matrimonial legislation and rights consequent thereon, it makes no provision for children living with same sex couples. This is a glaring omission. Such children will have no voice in the event of a breakdown of the couple’s relationship and their needs will have no legislative recognition. For example, a child/children who have grown up in a same sex couple relationship from a very early age and who find themselves some years later without any contact with the non biological parent because of a relationship breakdown may suffer unnecessary hardship as a result. Constitutional provisions are cited as the reason for this but that explanation is simply not good enough and somewhat of a cop out. The rights of children must always be a priority no matter the difficulties. Since the Bill has yet to be enacted there is still a small window to try and effect change here for those interested .
For those who are unregistered, the Bill proposes the establishment of a redress scheme. This would enable a financially dependent partner to apply to court for various reliefs arising out of the death of a partner or the end of that relationship. The bill also makes express provision for the recognition of cohabitation agreements. Such agreements would set out the manner in which the couples affairs are to be dealt with in the event of a dissolution and would enable them to contract out of the legislation.