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Sep 19

Same-sex couples: civil partnerships vs. living together

Reading Time: 5 mins

Civil partnerships, which came into force in December 2005, give legal recognition to a same-sex relationship. This means that gay couples who register get the same rights as a married couple when it comes to tax, social security, inheritance and workplace benefits.

Tying the knot, so to speak, is a serious business and a big decision for you and your partner. Whether you make your relationship ‘official’ in the eyes of the law or not, there are many factors to consider to ensure your financial security, so read on to find out more about your options.


Tying the knot – Civil Partnerships

As we said, registering your relationship by civil partnership will give you the same rights married couples enjoy, and will afford you the most financial security for the future. The Government’s Women and Equality Unit answers most questions in detail.

Before any celebrations can take place, you will first have to give notice of your intentions. Your notice must be publicised by the registration authority for 15 days before the registration can take place, although once given it is valid for 12 months.

A civil partnership notice will cost £30 and must include:

  • name and surname
  • date of birth
  • condition (marital or civil partnership status)
  • occupation
  • nationality
  • place of formation

There are further requirements if you or your partner are subject to immigration controls – check out the Home Office site for more information.

Once this is out of the way, you need to decide if you wish to have a ceremony or just get on with signing on the dotted line. Simply registering your relationship with the authority will cost £40.

Costs will vary, however, if you choose to have a ceremony. Ceremonies can only be held at approved venues – again, the Home Office can help you track one down – and any additional costs will be those associated with having a regular wedding celebration.


Same-sex couples Cohabiting

If you don’t want to register your relationship, however, you will have no more legal entitlement to each other’s loot than a cohabiting heterosexual couple would. Just as there is no such thing as a common-law marriage, there’s no such thing as a common-law same-sex partnership.

In this instance, you will be treated as any other cohabiting couple, who have no right to a share of each other’s property, earnings or inheritance, no matter how long they’ve been together. To protect yourself financially, it’s a good idea to create a cohabitation agreement.

You need to consider:

  • The purpose of your agreement – do you intend the agreement to be legally binding or just a statement of your expectations?
  • The length of time the agreement will cover
  • How will you treat property owned by either of you at the beginning of the relationship? – Will property bought while you live together be shared equally or in proportions set out in the agreement?
  • How will you deal with debts you have at the beginning of the relationship? – Make a statement of what each of you owes.
  • Inheritance and wills – What, if anything, will you leave to each other?
  • Who will get what if you break up.
  • How you will resolve disagreements – for example, with advice from professionals or through a mutually agreed person.

Cohabitation agreements can be really useful if one of you is much wealthier than the other. Or you might even be able to negotiate yourself a decent deal if you’re the less wealthy party.


Renting and property ownership

It may be romantic, but moving in together can quickly lose its gloss if each party has different ideas about responsibility. Plus, if your tenancy is just in your partner’s name, you will have no right to stay if your ex asks you to leave or walks out.

The best safeguard is to have both your names on the tenancy agreement, as either tenants-in-common or joint tenants. Also think about:

  • How much rent will each person contribute? This is best paid into a joint account before being paid automatically to the landlord.
  • Do you have too much stuff for one flat or home? Which stuff will be sold and how will the profits be used?
  • How will bills be split? Consider adding a lump sum each month to your rent account for irregular, annual or biannual bills. Better to contribute more than you expect to pay originally so there’s no shortfall for the rent.

If you choose to buy a house together, take your time as it is one of the biggest decisions a couple can make. You need to ensure that you agree in advance what you can each afford to pay. This may be a certain percentage of each partner’s income.

Don’t make a decision on the spot. It’s important to have a good look around one or two areas you’re interested in to get a sense of what is value for money. Compare a handful of properties and talk the decision over with family and friends – preferably as quickly as possible

It is key that both parties have independent legal advice. This could include, for example, whether a cohabitation agreement is a good idea in your case.

When it comes down to the finances, be sure that the payments are manageable and come before all other spending. The easiest way to do this is set up an automatic payment straight after your pay is deposited to whip the money out of your account before you have a chance to get your hands on it.

Right now, there are great rates to be had so get a competitive deal. Learn more about re-mortgaging here.

Be warned – If your ex owns the home, and there’s no other agreement or understanding in place, you will have no automatic right to stay if they ask you to leave.


Wills and Pensions

It’s important you make a will, especially if your relationship is unregistered. If you don’t, everything you own will go to your closest relatives, leaving your partner with nothing. It wouldn’t hurt to find a gay-friendly lawyer who will understand the issues involved in making a will as part of a gay couple – look out for adverts in the gay press.

If you die before retirement, most pension schemes will pay out a lump sum and/or the whole of the accumulated pension fund to a relative or dependant or a different ‘nominated beneficiary’.

If you want the money to go to your partner then make sure that a nomination form (sometimes called an “expression of wishes” form) has been completed.


  • What will happen about the payments of benefits from your pension scheme in the event of your death
  • Can you nominate a beneficiary for a lump sum payout? If so, check that you’ve nominated the person you want to benefit – your partner, a charity, your neighbour’s goldfish, or whoever
  • Does your scheme provide a pension for a spouse or dependant. If so, does this include an unmarried or same-sex partner?
  • Can you nominate a beneficiary for your dependant’s pension? If so, check your nomination is up-to-date.

Seek financial advice if your scheme doesn’t provide a pension scheme for an unmarried, same-sex partner. Can the rules be changed, or can you change to a scheme that does?


Separating from you partner can be an extremely painful process anyway, but deciding how to divide assets can present even more of a problem. As it stands, if you’re not married or in a civil partnership then you do not have the same rights to the ‘marital’ home. So if you’re paying part of the mortgage or contributing significantly to the running of the house then you should make sure that the house is in both of your names.

Similarly with children, unmarried fathers have to pay maintenance towards the upkeep of their children however they don’t have the same custodial rights and guardianship of the child automatically goes to the mother. So, to ensure your rights as a father you’ll need to get parental responsibility. As of December 2003, fathers who sign the birth certificate of their child will automatically get parental responsibility. This doesn’t apply if the child was born before 2003.

Take a look at our article on your rights when you cohabit to find out more.

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