International Aspects of Civil Partnership & Equal Marriage

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Foreign Registered Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriage

If you are a same-sex couple who married abroad, you are in the same situation as any married couple and this is now recognised in England and Wales as marriage.

If you are a same-sex couple and you are registered partners or in a civil union abroad, this probably counts as a civil partnership here in the UK and you do not need to re-register your relationship.

For this to count, firstly, you have to have complied with all the formal requirements in the country where you registered, both been single when you registered and had capacity to enter into the registration.

Secondly, the relationship must either be listed in Schedule 20 to the Civil Partnership Act as amended or fulfil the general conditions, which provide that

  • it must be for life,
  • must not be possible for people to register who are not single and
  • you must legally be treated as a couple once registered.

Most overseas regimes probably fulfil the general conditions, except perhaps some largely symbolic registrations. There are special rules if you are related, changed gender and so on.

If one of you is a British Citizen, you can go to the British Consulate in that country where you registered and get a certificate showing that you are civil partners for a fee. Under no circumstances should you simply divorce or dissolve your overseas registered partnership with a view to re-registering or getting married later here. This could have drastic consequences, for example if something happened to one of you in the meantime and the survivor would not inherit the pension.

If the law changes overseas and makes your relationship there no longer valid, this may also make it invalid in the UK and you may need to re-register. This was, for example, the uncertain situation for couples who married in California in 2008 while it was legal there, until the outcome of the Californian Supreme Court decision on what should happen to them. to top of text

Where can we register or get married?

You can register your civil partnership in England. You must go the register office where you live to give notice, but you can choose to register somewhere else. You can also register in hotels, castles etc. and some religious buildings which are approved for registrations. Alternatively you can register in Scotland, even if you do not live there. You can get married in the same way as anyone else in a civil ceremony. However, only a minority of religions allow religious same-sex weddings.

If one of you is a British Citizen and you live abroad, you may be able to register a civil partnership at the British Embassy or High Commission if you cannot register with the authorities of that country. This is only available in a few places and you should contact the Consulate there. If you are a member of the armed forces you may be able to register on a ship or abroad where you are stationed.

Of course you can register or marry abroad with the authorities of another country. From an English law point of view that will be recognised even if you are not citizens of that country or live there. However, the particular country may only allow their own citizens or people resident there to register or get married. You will need to check that out with the country in question. Some companies offer “weddings abroad” but this may only be a commitment ceremony that has no legal effect.

What is our status here?

If you married abroad you are recognised as a marriage couple as anyone else. If you registered abroad and your partnership is recognised in the UK, you count as civil partners. The English law on civil partnership will apply. This is very much the same as the law on marriage. So if you were going to separate and ask the English courts for a dissolution of your civil partnership or a divorce, they would apply English law and not the law of the country where you registered or married. If you signed a pre-nuptial or pre-registration agreement or contract in that country, this may or may not count here. The rules on whether you can apply in the English courts for a civil partnership dissolution are complicated, but generally if you both live here, you can get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership here.

English law will not always recognise the foreign dissolution of a registered partnership, even if you registered the partnership there. So if you have registered abroad and separated, you must get specialist advice to ensure that you count as single under English law before you can register a new civil partnership or get married.

If you are not English domiciled or you have property abroad, you should not rely on your civil partnership status or same-sex marriage and you should make wills in any event. You will need specialist advice. We can refer you to suitable specialists.

Can I get married or register a civil partnership in England or Wales even if I am not British?

Anybody can register a civil partnership in England and Wales. There is no requirement that you must both be British and in fact you could both have another nationality and come here only to register.

There are, however, immigration issues you need to consider. You can also get a visa as a fiancé(e) or a proposed civil partner to come here to register.

Andrea Woelke is an expert on civil partnership and has written the leading textbook on the topic.

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13 May 2016 by Andrea Woelke