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What Is the Difference Between Marriage and Civil Partnership?

Some people consider marriage and civil partnerships as the same commitment, just a different title. All though, marriage has been available for heterosexual couples, but now same-sex couples can also say ‘I do’ to one another.

Regardless of being the same or different, marriage and civil partnership is undoubtedly a big commitment for the couple who take it.


Same-sex marriage has been legal in the United Kingdom for seven years now. This legislation allows all couples to be married, except for Northern Ireland couples. For some time now, same-sex couples have had the right to register a civil partnership in England and Wales. Civil partnership qualifies as a legitimate relationship and registered by law but the same law doesn’t recognize it as a marriage or conferring the legal rights of marriage.


Same-sex couples who marry in England and Wales get treated as civil partners in Northern Ireland. Couples wishing to get married can give formal notice of their intention to marry at the local register office.


Same-sex couples can get married in civil ceremonies. For religious ceremonies, the religious organisation should have agreed to marry same-sex couples.


Legally, anyone aged 18 and above (or 16 with parental consent) can get married. They should not be in a marriage or a civil partnership and not closely related to their partner.


What Is a Civil Partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered by a couple, giving them legal rights similar to married couples.


Civil partnerships introduced in 2004 paved a way to recognise and protect same-sex couples legally. The law has evolved more to extend marriage to same-sex couples as well.


With this law in place, same-sex couples had the option of marriage or civil partnership. Opposite-sex couples, on the other hand, were only able to enter into marriage.


On 31 December 2019, the Supreme Court announced that civil partnerships would also accommodate couples of the opposite sex.


Couples opt for civil partnerships for any number of reasons. For example, those who married before can choose not to repeat the same for religious or personal beliefs.


Some choose not to associate themselves with the religious or traditional ceremonial processes.


The Similarities Between Marriage and Civil Partnership

There are some similar rights in both civil partnerships and marriage. Examples are property rights, pension benefits, and parental responsibility for a partner’s child.


If you’re looking for legal advice such as child financial provisions, child contact and arrangements, Austin Kemp offers a free consultation for qualifying cases.


Next of kin rights in hospitals and exemption from tax inheritance are similar in civil partnership and marriage. Eligibility for both marriage and civil partnership is similar, and the administrative process as well.


The Differences Between Marriage and Civil Partnership

Some of the differences between marriage and civil partnerships include:


1. Recognition Overseas

Opposite-sex marriage formed in England and Wales receives international recognition. Same-sex marriage formed in England and Wales is not as widely welcomed, except in countries that acknowledge or recognise same-sex marriage.


Outside of the U.K., most countries recognise civil partnerships of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. However, the recognition is not as universal compared to marriage.


If you intend to live abroad, it’s essential to check if the region recognises the union you’re entering. The options include;

  • Same-sex marriage
  • Opposite-sex marriage
  • Same-sex civil partnership


Austin Kemp can give further guidance on whatever choice you opt for.


International divorce comes with complex international aspects. Discretion is key, especially if you’re a high-profile individual. Get in touch with the right experts here and enjoy your peace of mind.


2. Divorce vs Dissolution

Ending a marriage is through a divorce, by obtaining a decree absolute. Ending a civil partnership is through dissolution by obtaining a dissolution order.


A marriage between an opposite-sex or same-sex couple can end by divorce on the grounds that the marriage has broken down beyond retrieval.


Married couples can go their separate ways under these circumstances:



By definition, adultery is sex with someone of the opposite sex outside the marriage. Note that you will need to live apart from your spouse for six months before you can apply for a divorce because of adultery.


Unreasonable Behaviour

If your spouse has acted in a way that makes you question whether or not you can continue to live with them, you have the option of applying for a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.


Examples of unreasonable behaviour are:

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal abuse
  • Drug use
  • Excessive drinking
  • Refusal to contribute towards shared living expenses


Discretion in such cases is essential, especially if you’re in the public limelight. The Austin Kemp team has the expertise and experience to handle your case, no matter the circumstances.



If your spouse left you and the marriage for at least two years, you could apply for divorce claiming desertion.


Separation For At Least Two Years

If you and your spouse have separated for at least two years and you both agree, you can file for divorce.


Separation For At Least Five Years

If you have separated from your spouse for at least five years, you can file for divorce even if they don’t agree to it.


A civil partnership can end by dissolution on the grounds that the civil partnership has broken down beyond retrieval. Reasons 2-4 above that apply to dissolution.


Financial claims upon divorce or dissolution come from different statutes. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1972 is for marriage, and The Civil Partnership Act 2004 for civil partnerships.


The financial aspect of divorce or dissolution can be complex; it’s vital to have the right legal team to get you what you deserve.


Civil Partnerships Cannot Be Religious

Marriage ceremonies can be civil or religious, regardless of whether couples are the same-sex or opposite sex. However, the religious organisation must agree to do same-sex marriage according to its rites.


Forming a civil partnership is a purely civil event, completed by simply signing the civil partnership document. In some cases, there’s a ceremony during registration, but the signing must be secular.


Other differences include:

  • For legal purposes, civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’, and married couples cannot call themselves ‘legal partners’
  • In a civil partnership, adultery is not a valid reason to dissolve the partnership but counts in divorce.
  • Marriage registration is on paper, where you file a hard copy at the register. The civil partnerships record is an electronic register.
  • Marriage becomes official after saying a prescribed form of words or vows. In civil partnerships, signing the civil partnership document doesn’t require you to speak any words.
  • In marriage, each party gives notice of marriage in the registration district in which they have lived for the previous seven days. In a civil partnership, each partner gives notice of civil partnership anywhere within the local authority in which they have lived for the last seven days
  • Marriage certificates include only the fathers’ names of the couple. Civil partnership certificates have both parents’ names.


Having a team of experts who understand the sensitivity and emotion involved in legal battles with family members makes divorce or dissolution easier to handle.


If you’re filing for a divorce or family law case and want experts who will give you the best possible outcome, contact Austin Kemp. Our attorneys are here to help, and they understand the process and the difficulties at hand. We’ll get you through this difficult time


Civil partnership or a marriage – Do you need help?

Our expert divorce and family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues, including:


Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice on civil partnerships or divorce

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or

Our expert divorce and family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

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19th May 2021

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