The new civil partnership bill proposed in Ireland gives same-sex couples the same financial and maintenance protection as married couples, a breakthrough for the lesbian and gay community.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “As well as providing for Civil Partnership Registration for same-sex couples, it will also provide certainty as to the status of cohabitation agreements, and a legal safety-net to people living in long term relationships who may otherwise be very vulnerable at the end of a relationship, whether through break-up or through bereavement.”
The new bill, expected to take effect by this time next year, creates a legal relationship for same-sex couples, covering registration of civil partnerships, property and financial matters and dissolution of the partnership.
However, the bill does not apply to opposite-sex couples or siblings who are living together.
It does offer financial protection for co-habiting heterosexual couples with the safety net of a redress scheme in the event of economic vulnerability at the end of the relationship.
To qualify for a civil partnership you and your partner must both be 18 by the date of registration and give three months notice of when you wish to register the partnership.
Just as heterosexual marriages, the union cannot take place if either one of you is already married or in a civil partnership and you cannot enter a civil partnership with family members, including those related by adoption.
Partnerships are only annulled if it is found that either party had given false or misleading information regarding the age and marital status of either of the parties, if the couple are are related in any way, information that would have initially prevented the partnership.
The main principle of the bill is to ensure that those in civil partnerships are entitled to the same benefits as married couples based on the fact that they are long term unions, though civil partnership is not the same as marriage.
The government claims such a move would be open to Constitutional challenge under Article 41 of the Constitution.
Minister Eamon Ryan said the Green Party were pleased to see the proposed legislation and looked forward to it being enacted, although he acknowledged that his party had wanted to go further.
Under the new bill, acts such as the mental health act, immigration laws and domestic violence will be amended so that civil partners receive the same provision as spouses in opposite-sex marriages.
Yet, one of the major changes, and perhaps the most anticipated, is a civil partner recognised as lawfully sharing the estate of a deceased person.
Partners have the right to share the estate as long as they respect the rights of the deceased person’s children and the rights of a former spouse.
In addition to that, civil partners are entitled to pension benefits as long as they have been registered.
Nevertheless, if your partner has deserted you for more than two years and you have not reconciled at the time of their death, you are not liable for any of share of the estate if you are the first named civil partner.
When a partnership has been dissolved, the court can request for a partner to make maintenance payments to the other to meet any liabilities or expenses reasonably incurred before a dissolution was applied for.
Payments stop when either partner dies or when the partner in favour enters a new civil partnership or marriage. This also applies to property orders and for all rules in general.
Any payments made to a partner after a dissolution remain effective until they enter a new partnership.
Ciaran Cuffe, a spokesperson for the Green Party Justice said the announcement was a significant step forward for same sex couples, and represents progress on the path towards full marriage equality.
For more information about the proposed legislation click here.