The Civil Partnership Bill : Explained by Annette J Dunlea (Cork Author)
Published in The Carrigdhoun Newspaper 1st May 2010 p24
The Civil Partnership Bill 44/2009 is to establish a statutory civil partnership registeration scheme for same sex couples living together with a range of rights, obligations and protections for civil partnerships. It also lists the procedure and conditions for civil registeration. Overall the bill provides three things: a scheme for civil registeration of same sex couples and assigns rights and duties to that couple. Secondly, it establishes a redress scheme which gives protection to a vulnerable party at the end of a long term opposite or same sex partnership. Thirdly, it allows for a legal recognition of cohabiting agreements enabling cohabitants to regulate their affairs. It also lists a number of incidents where a civil registeration cannot take place. A civil partnership only ends in the death of a partner or by dissoultion by the court.
The Bill states that the couple must give three months prior notice before the civil partnership. The procedure for the registeration is listed. It allows for written objections to the partnership to the registrar. It clarifies that civil partners be treated like spouces. The court hearing these cases will be called The Circuit And Civil Partnership Court and will be held in the Circuit and High Court , in open camera. Another section of the Bill deals with dissolution of the civil partnership. The couple must be living apart for two out of three years. In this court various orders can be applied for: safety orders, barring orders, maintenance orders, property adjustment orders, financial compensation orders, provisions out of estate for surviving partner and orders for sale of property.
The second part of the Bill deals with cohabiting agreements. It recognises them and provides a redress scheme for same sex couples and opposite sex partners giving protection to the financially dependent party at the end of a cohabiting relationship, where the are neither married or registered in a civil partnership. A cohabiting agreement is only valid and enforced if it is in writing and signed by both partners. Both must have obtained seperate legal advice or one partner must sign a waiver to independent legal advice. A qualified cohabitant may apply to the court for various orders: maintenance, compensationary adjustment orders, and pension adjustment orders. These procedures must take place within two years of the end of the relationship.
Minister Ahern says : “This is a major milestone in the implementation of the commitment in the agreed programme for government to legislate for civil partnerships. The legislation is keenly awaited by many cohabiting couples, and will be of great benefit to same sex couples. It will also provide certainty , as to the statutes of cohabiting agreements, and a legal safety net to people living in a long term relationships who may otherwise be vulnerable at the end of a relationship through break up or bereavement.” He continues: “the scheme will also clarify the law by providing for recognition of cohabitant agreements bewteen unmarried opposite sex cohabiting couples and bewteen unregistered same sex couples. In addition, for unregistered or unmarried cohabitants who have not made a cohabitant agreement , it will provide protection to a dependent vulnerable party at the end of a relationship by establishing a redress scheme”. The Minister concludes : “this bill also represents a recognition by Government of many forms of relationships in modern society, and an important step , very particularly for same sex couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition”.
In response to the Bill the Irish bishops issued a statement saying that the new bill “represents a fundamental revolution of our understanding of marriage and the family an it cannot go unchallenged”. They say that the bill unrightly establishes parity bewteen married couples and unmarried hetro sexual couples.
The proposed legislation states that a qualified cohabitant are those living together for three years or two years if there are kids involved. In short, the bill represents significant expansion of the boundaries of legitimate family forms in Irish law. Children have been airbrushed out of the bill. Although a person can qualify as a cohabitant after two years after having a child , no other provisions for the child is made in the legislation. There is no mention of child adoption for civil partners. It is also possible for a person to become a cohabitant without realising it. The main part of the bill has been welcomed by legal experts and civil rights groups but the second part which deals with cohabitants and their children has attracted much criticism. Many legal experts have suggested that the first part of the bill should pass into legislation and the second part of the bill needs more work and justifies a new bill of its own.