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Living together and civil partnership - legal differences

About this information

This information is about the legal differences between civil partnerships and living together. The information only applies to same-sex couples.

For information in England and Wales about the legal differences between living together and marriage, see Living together and marriage – legal differences.

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What is living together

If you are in a gay or lesbian relationship, living together means living together as a couple without having registered a civil partnership. In some areas of law you may not have the same rights as you would if you registered your civil partnership, although in other areas of law you will.

If you want to set down your legal rights in certain areas of your relationship with your partner, you can make an official agreement that will be recognised by the courts. This is known as a living together agreement or cohabitation contract.

This agreement can be about, for example, shared responsibility for your children, ownership of property which you live in, and ownership of jointly owned possessions. You will need the help of an experienced solicitor to do this.

Although a living together agreement is recognised by the courts, it may be difficult to force your partner to keep to the terms of the agreement. You should get legal advice if you find yourself in this position.

For more information about living together agreements, see Living Together Agreements on the Advicenow website at: www.advicenow.org.uk.

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What is a civil partnership

A civil partnership is a legal relationship which can be registered by two people of the same sex who aren't related to eachother. If you are in a gay or lesbian relationship, registering a civil partnership will give your relationship legal recognition. This will give you added legal rights, as well as responsibilities.

Once you have registered a civil partnership, it can only be ended if one of you dies, or by applying to court to bring the partnership legally to an end.

You cannot apply to bring a civil partnership to an end until it has lasted for at least one year.

For more information about civil partnerships, see Registering a civil partnership.

For more information about ending a civil partnership, see Ending a civil partnership.

Pre-registration agreements

As civil partners, you may choose to draw up an agreement, known as a pre-registration agreement, before you register your partnership. A pre-registration agreement can set out your rights and obligations towards each other and, in particular, what should happen if your relationship breaks down. It can include arrangements for children and your personal possessions, for example, the family home and any pensions. Both of you should get independent legal advice when you make an agreement. A pre-registration agreement is not legally binding but could influence the courts if they get involved when your civil partnership breaks down.

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Adoption

Two civil partners or a same-sex couple living together can jointly adopt a child.

You may choose legally to adopt your partner’s child. If you are in a civil partnership, this procedure will be straightforward and not involve an agency, as long as the applicant has lived with the child for at least six months. If you're not in a civil partnership, the procedure is likely to take longer.

Adopting from overseas

The law on adoption is different depending on which country you're adopting from. Some countries may not allow adoption by a same-sex couple, even if you are civil partners. If you want to adopt from outside the UK, you will need advice from an adviser in the UK who is an expert on overseas adoption.

For more information about how to find an adviser who is an expert on overseas adoption, see Adopting a child in Family fact sheets.

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Banking

Banking and living together

If you are living together with your partner and you both have separate bank accounts, neither of you can have access to money held in the other one's account.

If one of you dies, any balance in the account will be the property of the person who died and cannot be used until the estate is settled.

If you and your partner have a joint bank account, you both have access to the money in the account.

If the account is in joint names and one of you dies, the whole account immediately becomes the property of the other partner.

Banking and civil partnerships

If you and your civil partner have separate bank accounts and one of you dies, the bank may allow the other one to withdraw any money left in the account. The amount left would need to be small. The bank would probably require proof of your relationship and also proof that your partner has died.

If you have a joint bank account, the money is owned jointly regardless of who put it into the account. Debts and overdrafts relating to a joint bank account are the responsibility of both you and your partner. This is regardless of whose debt it is.

If one of you dies, the whole account immediately becomes the property of the other.

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Death and inheritance

Inheritance and living together

If one of you dies without leaving a will, there are rules about how your property will be distributed. The surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything unless you and your partner owned property together.

When one of you dies and you there is a valid will, the surviving partner will inherit under the terms of the will if it makes provision for them.

If you and your partner are living together, you will each need to make wills to make sure that your partner is provided for.

If property is left to you by your partner, you may have to pay inheritance tax on it if it is valued at over a certain amount. When a civil partner dies, transfer of property is exempt from inheritance tax. However, you will not be exempt if you and your partner were living together without being in a civil partnership.

Inheritance and civil partnerships

If either you or your partner dies without making a will, the other partner will still inherit some or possibly all of your property.

If your civil partner dies and has made a will, you will inherit under the terms of the will if it makes provision for you.

If property is left to you by your civil partner, you do not have to pay inheritance tax on it.

Inheritance and children

If you write a will, you can leave your money, property and possessions to whoever you want. This could include your partner’s children.

If there is no will, a child has a legal right to inherit from both birth parents, and from the extended family of both these parents.

If there is no will, a child has the right to inherit from either their birth parent or a parent who has adopted them.

A child has no right to inherit from the estate of a step-parent unless the step-parent has adopted them or provided for them in their will.

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Debts

If you have debts or other financial responsibilities, these do not become the responsibility of your partner when you move in with them. This is the case whether you are civil partners or not.

You are responsible for debts in your own name, but not for those in your partner's name. You are also responsible for debts in joint names and may be responsible for some debts which aren't in joint names, such as council tax. This is the case whether you are civil partners or not.

For more information about joint debts when you split up with your partner, see Breaking Up Checklist on the Advicenow website at: www.advicenow.org.uk.

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Domestic violence

If your partner is violent towards you or your children, you can apply to a court for protection. You can do this whether you are a civil partner or living together. However, if you aren't a civil partner, there are fewer things the court can do to protect you.

If a man rapes his partner, he can be convicted of this offence. This applies whether you are civil partners or living together. He can also be convicted of sexual assault.

A woman cannot legally rape another woman, although she may be charged with other offences, such as sexual assault.

For more information about domestic violence, see Domestic violence.

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Ending a relationship

If you are living together with your partner without being in a civil partnership, you can separate informally without going to court. However, the court has the power to make decisions about who should take care of any children of the family.

If you are in a civil partnership, you and your partner can separate informally, but you will need to apply to court if you want to end your civil partnership formally.

If you are dissolving a civil partnership or getting a legal separation, the court will not end the relationship until it has looked at the arrangements for the children.

Children at the end of a relationship

When a relationship ends, everyone with parental responsibility needs to decide who will care for the children on a day-to-day basis.

Having parental responsibility means you have some responsibility for a child's health, education and welfare.

If you're the lesbian or gay partner of a child's parent, you may have parental responsibility for the child – see under heading Responsibility for children.

If you and your partner find it difficult to agree between yourselves about the care of your children, you can ask for help from the local Family Mediation Service.

For more information about family mediation, see Ending a relationship when you're living together and Ending a civil partnership.

If you and your partner can't reach agreement by yourselves and do not both want to use the Mediation Service, you can ask the courts to make decisions for you. You'll need legal advice to do this.

The court will usually allow contact between the child and the parent with whom the child is not living unless there are exceptional circumstances. Contact orders can be granted in anyone’s favour, not just a parent or relative.

For more information about children at the end of a relationship, see Ending a relationship when you're living together and Ending a civil partnership.

Financial support

Financial support and living together

Neither you or your partner has a legal responsibility to support the other financially at the end of a relationship if you were not in a civil partnership. However, you will be legally responsible for supporting a child if you are the child's birth or adoptive parent. In some cases, you may also have to support a child if you are the step-parent.

Financial arrangements can be made:

  • by coming to a voluntary agreement with your partner (sometimes called a family-based arrangement)
  • through the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)
  • through the courts.

If you come to a voluntary agreement with your partner to pay financial support, it may be difficult to force them to keep to it.

For more information about financial support at the end of a relationship when you are living together, see Ending a relationship when you're living together.

For more about child maintenance, see Child maintenance – where to start.

For more about family-based arrangements, see How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement.

Financial support and civil partnerships

You and your partner have a legal responsibility to support one another financially when your civil partnership has ended.

You are also responsible for supporting a child for whom you are the birth or adopted parent. In some cases, you may also have to support a child if you are the step-parent.

Financial arrangements can be made:

  • by coming to a voluntary agreement with your partner (sometimes called a family-based arrangement
  • through the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)
  • through the courts.

You can get help to agree financial arrangements with your partner from your local Family Mediation Service.

For more information about mediation and about financial support at the end of a civil partnership, see Ending a civil partnership.

For more about child maintenance, see Child maintenance – where to start.

For more about family-based arrangements, see How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement.

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Housing

If you live together in rented accommodation

If you live in rented accommodation with your partner, one or both of you may be tenants. If your partner leaves, or asks you to leave and you aren't named on the tenancy, you will usually have no right to stay in the accommodation. This applies whether you live in privately rented or social housing accommodation.

However, you may, in some circumstances, be able to ask a court to give you short-term rights to stay in the accommodation or to transfer the tenancy into your name. You should get legal advice before doing this.

If you are living together with your partner in rented accommodation, it is usually advisable for you to be joint tenants. This will give you both the same rights and responsibilities. If the tenancy is in the name of only one of you, it may be possible to change it to a joint tenancy as long as both the one who is the tenant and the landlord agree.

If your partner dies and your name is not on the tenancy, you may have the right to continue living in the accommodation. If you are in this position, you should get legal advice.

If you are living in rented accommodation, you may need advice about you rights to stay in the accommodation or about taking on a joint tenancy. You can get help and advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.

Civil partners living in rented accommodation

Both you and your civil partner have the right to stay in your home, regardless of whose name is on the tenancy agreement. If your partner asks you to leave, you don't have to go unless a court has ordered you to. A court can order you to leave your home when dealing with the breakdown of your civil partnership.

If your partner dies and your name is not on the tenancy, you may have the right to continue living in the accommodation. If you are in this position, you should get legal advice.

If you are living in rented accommodation, you may need advice about you rights to stay in the accommodation if your civil partnership ends or if you or your partner dies. You can get help and advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.

Owner occupiers who live together

Your home may be owned by just one of you, or you may own it jointly.

If your partner is the sole owner, you may have no rights to stay in the home if your partner asks you to leave. However, if you have children, you can ask the court to transfer the property into your name. The court will only do this if it decides it is in the best interests of your children. If you don't have children, you may be able to claim a financial interest in your home if you can show you contributed financially by, for example, paying for improvements or towards mortgage repayments. If you do have a financial interest in the home, you might be able to stop the other person from selling it. You will need to get legal advice about whether or not you have a financial interest.

If your relationship ends and there are children involved, the court has the power to order a transfer of the property as part of an overall settlement in order to secure accommodation for the children. This is usually done for a limited period, for example, until the younger child is 18 years old.

If your relationship has broken down, you should get advice from a legal adviser who specialises in the breakdown of relationships.

For more information about how to find a legal adviser, see Using a solicitor.

Owner occupiers and civil partnerships

Both you and your civil partner have the right to stay in your home, regardless of who owns the property or whose name is on the mortgage.

If your partner asks you to leave, you don't have to go unless a court has ordered you to do so. A court can order you to leave your home when dealing with the breakdown of your civil partnership.

If your relationship ends and there are children involved, the court has the power to order a transfer of the property as part of an overall settlement in order to secure accommodation for the children. This is usually done for a limited period, for example, until the younger child is 18 years old.

If your civil partnership has broken down, you should get advice from a legal adviser who specialises in the breakdown of relationships.

For more information about how to find a legal adviser, see Using a solicitor.

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When you are living together

Nobody is entitled to give consent to medical treatment for another adult. However, in practice, doctors do usually discuss decisions with the patient's family and this should not usually rule out a partner who lives with you but is not your civil partner.

If a hospital is unable to get consent for medical treatment from a patient because they are unconscious or mentally incapacitated for some other reason, they may ask for consent from the next of kin.

There is no legal reason why a hospital should not be able to accept you as your partner's next of kin. In practice, many hospitals and other organisations such as prisons will usually accept the name of someone who lives with you as your next of kin. If you want to name your partner as next of kin, you should insist on this. However, there is little you can do if the organisation still refuses to accept it.

Civil partners

You aren't entitled to give consent to medical treatment for your civil partner, unless a hospital is unable to get consent because your partner is unconscious or mentally incapacitated for some other reason.

If you are a civil partner, you will always have authority to act as next of kin for your partner.

If you are living with someone who has a child and you do not have legal responsibility for that child, you do not automatically have the authority to give consent if the child needs medical treatment. However, your partner may arrange for you to act on your partner's behalf.

For more information about medical consent and next of kin, visit the Advicenow website at: www.advicenow.org.uk.

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Money and possessions

Living together

The ownership of shared possessions can be quite complicated but there are some general rules which apply. For example, property you owned before you started living with your partner remains yours and the person who bought an item generally owns it. An item will be owned jointly if you bought it using a joint account. If you give property to your partner, it will belong to your partner. However, this can be difficult to prove.

If you give your partner housekeeping money, any property brought with savings from it will probably belong to you. This is different from the position in a civil partnership where savings from the housekeeping money would usually be divided by a court equally between both civil partners.

Civil partnerships

You and your civil partner are each entitled to acquire and to keep any land, property, savings or investments in your own right during your civil partnership. If you owned any property before you registered your civil partnership, this will usually continue to be seen as yours. However, if your relationship breaks down, any property owned by you or your partner will be taken into account when arriving at a financial settlement.

If your friends or relatives give you presents for the registration of a civil partnership which does not take place, these will be seen as your property, unless you have agreed otherwise with your partner. The same applies to your partner.

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Names

The rules about what name you can call yourself are the same whether you and your partner are just living together or are civil partners. You have the right to be known by whatever name you like and can change that name at any time.

If you register a civil partnership, you are not legally required to take your partner’s surname.

Two people living together can decide to use the same family name, although legally they don't have to.

Whether you are a partner or a civil partner, you can still be known by both your original surname and your partner's surname. If the relationship breaks down or your partner dies, you can continue to use your partner’s name, or you can go back to using your original surname.

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Pensions

Living together

The rules of different pension schemes vary. Whether or not you can benefit from a scheme to which your partner belongs will depend on the scheme. Most schemes offer benefits to dependent children and some will offer benefits to a dependent partner.

If the scheme offers benefits to an opposite-sex partner, it should also offer benefits to a partner in a same-sex relationship. Schemes which offer benefits only to opposite-sex partners are breaking discrimination laws.

You can arrange a personal pension to give cover to whoever you want, as long as you are prepared to pay what might be large contributions to the pension fund.

If you are not a civil partner, you can't claim a state retirement pension based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.

If you split up with your partner, your partner has no automatic right to your pension. They may also have no automatic right to your pension when you die.

For more information about pensions, see Pensions.

Civil partnerships

It is against the law for an occupational pension scheme, and for some private pension schemes, not to offer the same benefits to a civil partner as a married partner.

If you are a civil partner, you may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.

If your civil partnership is brought to an end in court, you are entitled to a share of your ex-partner’s occupational or private pension. If you die, your surviving civil partner may also be entitled to a share of your occupational or private pension.

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Responsibility for children

Not everyone who lives with or looks after a child has an automatic legal responsibility for that child. Having legal responsibility for a child is called parental responsibility. It means that you can have a say in your child's healthcare, education, welfare and in whether your child can be taken abroad.

A woman who has given birth to a child has automatic parental responsibility. So does a man who was married to the mother at the time of the birth, although he can get parental responsibility in other ways too.

For more information about how a man can get parental responsibility, see Children at the end of your relationship in Ending a relationship when you're living together.

If you're the lesbian or gay partner of a child's parent, you may have various options for getting parental responsibility for the child, depending on your circumstances. These include:

  • asking a court to give you parental responsibility. You can do this whether you and your partner are civil partners or just living together
  • making a parental responsibility agreement with the child's mother or the child's parents if they both have parental responsibility. This only applies to a civil partner
  • adopting the child
  • registering or re-registering the child's birth with the mother. This only applies to lesbian partners in certain circumstances
  • being in a civil partnership with the child's mother at the time of the birth. This only applies to lesbian partners in certain circumstances.

If you are in a civil partnership, you will become the step-parent of your partner's child. This will not give you automatic parental responsibility for the child, but you can get it by making a parental responsibility agreement or applying for a court order.

If you are living together with your partner, you will not become the step-parent of your partner's child.

You can also get parental responsibility by adopting your partner's child.

For more information about parental responsibility, including how you can get parental responsibility for your partner's children, visit the Advicenow website at: www.advicenow/living.

You might want to get advice about how to get parental responsibility for a partner's child. You can get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Under certain circumstances, you can ask a court to grant you a contact order or a residence order when your relationship comes to an end. You can do this whether you and your partner are civil partners or just living together.

For more information about the orders a court can make about children at the end of a relationship, see Ending a relationship when you're living together or Ending a civil partnership.

Financial support of children

Both birth parents are responsible for supporting a child financially. This applies whether or not they are living together and whether or not a parent has legal parental responsibility.

You will also have financial responsibility for a child you have adopted. This applies whether you are in a civil partnership or just living together with your partner.

If you are a step-parent, you will also have financial responsibility for your child. However, you can't be asked to pay financial support by the Child Support Agency (CSA).

For more information about the Child Support Agency, see Child support for parents who live apart.

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Sexual relations

It is legal for two men or women of 16 or more to have sexual intercourse in private even if they have not registered a civil partnership.

You do not have to have sex with your partner just because you are living together or in a civil partnership.

You can't ask a court to annul your civil partnership just because you have never had sex with your partner since registering your civil partnership.

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Student grants and loans

Student grants

The rules about student grants are the same whether you are living together with your partner or have registered a civil partnership.

Your partner’s income is taken into account when deciding whether you are entitled to a student grant. However, your partner's income is ignored when deciding whether you qualify for a student loan.

Student loans

There are two types of student loans - one for tuition fees and one for maintenance.

You can take out a student loan for tuition fees, regardless of the income of your civil partner or same-sex partner who lives with you.

All eligible full-time students can get a student loan for maintenance, but the exact amount you can borrow will depend on several things, which may include the income of your partner.

You can take out 75 per cent of the maximum student loan for maintenance regardless of the income of your civil partner or same-sex partner who lives with you.

When assessing whether you can get the remaining 25 per cent, the income of your civil partner will be taken into account. The income of a same-sex partner who lives with you may be taken into account, depending on when you started your course and how old you were at the time.

For more information about student grants and loans, in England see Financial support for higher education students and in Wales, see Student finance Wales.

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Tax

People who are living together and civil partners are taxed separately. Each of you can claim a personal allowance.

If you're a civil partner, you can claim a married couple's allowance, but only if you or your partner was born before 6 April 1935.

For more information about personal allowances, see Income tax allowances.

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Welfare benefits and tax credits

Living together

If you are living together as a couple, the money you have coming in and your financial needs are looked at jointly when deciding if you are entitled to benefits and tax credits.

Entitlement to some benefits depends on whether or not you have paid enough national insurance contributions. These benefits include:

  • contributory Employment and Support Allowance
  • Maternity Allowance
  • contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Depending on the benefit, you might get more money for someone you are living with, but only if they are caring for your children.

You cannot claim bereavement benefits or a retirement pension based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.

Other benefits, for example, Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance are not affected by whether or not you are living with someone.

If you have children, you can claim Child Benefit.

Benefits, tax credits and civil partnerships

If you are civil partners, the money you have coming in and your financial needs are looked at jointly when deciding if you are entitled to means-tested benefits and tax credits.

Entitlement to some benefits depends on whether or not you have paid enough national insurance contributions. These benefits include:

  • contributory Employment and Support Allowance
  • Maternity Allowance
  • contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

You can claim bereavement benefits or, in some cases, a retirement pension, based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.

Other benefits, for example, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance are not affected by whether or not you are a civil partner.

If you have children, you can claim Child Benefit.

For more information about Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

For more information about Maternity Allowance and Child Benefit, see Benefits for families and children.

For more information about Jobseeker's Allowance, see Benefits for people looking for work.

For more information about bereavement benefits, see Benefits and bereavement.

For more information about benefits and national insurance contributions, see National insurance – contributions and benefits.

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