The civil partnership (in the UK) and PACS (in France) are registered relationships between two people of the same or mixed sex (since December 2019 in the UK) which endure until death, dissolution or annulment. Both allow couples who do not wish to get married to have a legally recognised relationship. However, whilst their requirements largely align with each other, there are some differences between them.
A civil partnership can be registered provided that both partners are aged 16 or over and have permission from a parent or guardian. No permission is required for adults (i.e. 18 or older). A person who wishes to enter a civil partnership must not already be married or in another civil partnership and cannot be closely related to their partner. The couple are required to have lived in the same area of England or Wales for at least seven days.
Prior to registering a civil partnership, the couple must give notice of this intention to their local register office. This information is placed on a register for 28 days (which can be waived in certain circumstances, such as illness) allowing the opportunity for third parties to object to the proposed partnership. Once this window has passed, the couple have 12 months to register their partnership in any approved register office or venue. It’s then legally registered once the civil partnership schedule is signed in front of a registrar and two witnesses.
Making a Will is commonplace in the UK and ensures that assets pass to loved ones upon death. Where a civil partner dies without writing a Will, UK intestacy rules are triggered and act in the same was as in relation to marriages and the surviving partner inherits the deceased’s assets. The situation becomes more complicated where children are involved.
Gifts made by a person to their civil partner, either during their lifetime or upon death, are generally exempt from IHT. For international partners, the exemption may not apply where one of the partners’ tax domicile is located outside of the UK.
PACS (PACTE CIVIL DE SOLIDARITÉ)
In France, partners entering into a PACS must be of legal age and can be of the same or of different sex to their partner. As with the UK civil partnership, the PACS cannot be concluded between closely related partners.
Whilst couples seeking to register a PACS in France can be of any nationality, they must be resident in France. Those seeking to register a PACS abroad can do so in the French embassy or consulate in their country of residence. However, at least one of the partners must be a French national.
The PACS agreement can be drawn up by the couple or by a French Notaire. The agreement organises the couple’s joint life and the way in which assets will be allocated in case of separation, for example.
The Court, Notaire or embassy registering the PACS determines whether the eligibility criteria have been satisfied and the PACS takes effect from date of registration. French birth certificates contain a margin to update certain information, and notice that a person has entered a PACS would be entered here. UK birth certificates do not have this feature, so notice of a UK or other foreign national entering a PACS is included on a special register held in Paris.
Since a PACS doesn’t create an entitlement for the surviving partner to inherit on the death of the first partner, it’s necessary to either write a Will to ensure transmission of assets upon death or take out an assurance-vie policy which would provide the surviving partner some protection. Surviving partners who inherit upon the death of their partner are exempt from French IHT, as is the case in France for married couples.
Where children are present, whether they belong to both partners in the PACS or not, only the “quotité disponible” can be left to the surviving partner because of the French rules on reserved heirship. Where there are no children, it’s possible to leave the entire estate to the surviving partner. One way to overcome the rules on forced heirship is to write a Will with a choice of English law clause, provided the circumstances allow it.
One notable rule which applies to married couples in France, but not to couples in a PACS, is that they do not receive their partner’s pension. In France, upon the death of a married person, the surviving spouse can receive a “pension de reversion” which is essentially a share of the pension the deceased would have received upon retirement. The amount received by a surviving spouse is usually between 50-60% of the pension, but a surviving civil partner receives nothing.
WHICH SHOULD I CHOOSE?
For legal and tax purposes, the civil partnership is treated in the same way in France as the PACS and the same goes for the PACS in the UK now that civil partnerships are opened to heterosexual couples. Therefore, the choice is largely down to personal preference and satisfying the eligibility criteria. A Will is required to guarantee the surviving civil partner inherits from the French estate as, under French intestacy, a PACS partner (and therefore a civil partner) will not benefit from a right to the French estate. It’s not possible to be in both a civil partnership and PACS, as both countries require couples entering into a legal relationship to demonstrate that they aren’t already married or in a civil partnership in the country of registration or abroad.
There is no system of registering a foreign civil partnership, such as the PACS, in the UK but in France UK civil partners must justify their partnership to the competent French tax service when filing a French IHT declaration, deed of gift, and other similar acts. One way of doing this is by providing an Affidavit of law issued by a UK Solicitor, notary public or consul which demonstrates the existence of the rule of law or sets out its context.
For assistance with PACS or civil partnership related issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch.