The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., today announced that the Government has approved the Heads of a Civil Partnership Bill. Detailed provisions of the Bill will now be drafted by the Office of the Attorney General.
The Government has also decided to publish the Heads of the Bill and interested persons are invited to examine the detail of the scheme and to submit their views to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The Heads of Bill draw on the Colley Options Paper and the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in their report, Rights and Duties of Cohabitants. The Scheme will establish a statutory mechanism for registration of same-sex partnerships, and set out the duties and responsibilities of registered partners, and set out the consequences of dissolution of such partnerships.
Announcing the publication, Minister Ahern said: "This is a major milestone in the implementation of the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to legislate for Civil Partnerships. This legislation is keenly awaited by many cohabiting couples, and will be of great benefit both to same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting couples. 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 Scheme will also clarify the law by providing for recognition of cohabitant agreements between unmarried opposite-sex cohabiting couples and between unregistered cohabiting 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.
Concluding, the Minister said: "This Bill also represents a recognition by Government of the 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."
The Scheme of the Civil Partnership Bill may be viewed on the Department’s website www.justice.ie.
24 June 2008
Note for Editors
Programme for Government
The Programme for Government commitment states:
"This Government is committed to full equality for all in our society. Taking account of the options paper prepared by the Colley Group and the pending Supreme Court Case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government."
Main provisions of the Heads of Bill
The Scheme provides for:
- a scheme of civil registration of same-sex partnerships (Part 2) together with a range of rights and duties consequent on registration (Parts 3 to 6),
- access to a cohabitant’s redress scheme giving protection to a vulnerable party at the end of a long-term opposite-sex or same-sex relationship (Part 7),
- recognition of cohabitant agreements enabling cohabitants to regulate their joint financial affairs (Part 7, Chapter 2).
The main effects of the proposals are the following;
- to create a new legal relationship for same-sex couples which may end only on the death of a partner or dissolution by a court,
- to make detailed provision for the formalities and procedures for registration of civil partnerships,
- to give legal effect to a range of property, financial and other matters consequent on civil partnership including in relation to maintenance, shared home, succession, taxation, social welfare schemes and pensions,
- to provide cohabitants (same-sex and opposite-sex couples) with the safety net of a redress scheme in the event of economic vulnerability at the end of their relationship,
- to give legal certainty to agreements regulating the financial affairs of cohabitants enabling them, if they so choose, to opt-out of the redress scheme.
The Colley Options Paper on Domestic Partnership published on 28 November 2006 focuses on three distinct types of cohabiting relationships: opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples and non-conjugal relationships. The Paper presents a range of options according legal recognition and effect to each of these relationships. The options presented are: contractual arrangements, a presumptive scheme to protect a vulnerable dependent partner in the absence of any other formal recognition of the relationship, limited civil partnership (a civil registration scheme extending a limited selection of the rights and duties available on marriage to registered partners), full civil partnership (a civil registration scheme which extends almost all of the rights and duties available on marriage to registered partners) and legislative review and reform.
Law Reform Commission Report on Cohabitants
The Law Reform Commission Report on Rights and Duties of Cohabitants published on 1 December 2006 covers unmarried opposite and same-sex couples living together in an intimate relationship. The Report is a comprehensive examination of the law as regards cohabitants and makes recommendations for change in areas ranging from property law and succession, to taxation, pensions and domestic violence. The recommendations are intended to improve the situation of cohabitants particularly at the end of a relationship when people are potentially vulnerable to legal uncertainty and hardship. The Report also contains a draft legislative scheme to implement its recommendations.
The Report identifies three particular models for policy makers to consider: a status or registration scheme; private contract arrangements; and a redress scheme. The Law Reform Commission considers it appropriate to have a tiered approach which incorporates each of these models. It recommends the use of a contract model and a redress model as the basis for reform in addressing the rights and duties of cohabitants.