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What is a Civil Partnership?

There are some people that consider marriage and civil partnerships as the same commitment. Although they are similar, there is a real importance to distinguish between a civil partnership and a marriage, especially concerning legal rights and recognition.

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered by a couple, providing legal recognition, certain rights and responsibilities similar to married couples. This qualifies couples with a legitimate relationship to have their commitment registered by law, but this same law doesn’t recognise the civil partnership the same as a marriage or confer the legal rights of marriage.

Civil partnerships can be entered by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples looking to give their relationship legal recognition. The civil partnerships law was introduced in 2004 and paved a way to recognise and protect same-sex couples legally. The law has since evolved 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, individuals who have been married in a previous relationship may choose not to repeat a second marriage with a new partner due to religious or personal beliefs. In this case, couples can instead opt for a civil partnership. Some choose not to associate themselves with the religious or traditional ceremonial processes.

Are there any differences between a civil partnership and a marriage?

Civil partnerships and marriage are very similar from a legal point of view, with those who choose to enter into a civil partnership gaining many of the same rights as a married couple. Some people consider marriage and civil partnerships as the same commitment, just a different title but there is a difference between the two in law. 

1. Recognition Overseas

Whilst civil partnerships and marriages are recognised as legal relationships in the UK, there are differences in how these are recognised overseas. With some countries not recognising the two relationship statuses depending on numerous factors

Opposite-sex marriage formed in England and Wales receives international recognition. Same-sex marriage formed in England and Wales is welcomed in countries that acknowledge same-sex marriage laws, but unfortunately, this is not recognised by all countries. 

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.

Ending a relationship overseas can come with complex international aspects. Discretion is key, especially if you’re a high-profile individual. Get in touch with the expert separation and divorce solicitors, and enjoy the peace of mind that an expert is right by your side!

2. Divorce vs Dissolution

One of the main differences between a civil partnership and a marriage, is that when a married couples’ relationship comes to a legal end, it is referred to as a divorce, but a civil partnership coming to an end is called a dissolution – and ending a civil partnership is achieved by obtaining a dissolution order.

Regardless of this difference, marriage and civil partnership are both undoubtedly a big commitment for the couple who take it. Couples considering legal recognition should always seek legal advice before entering a civil partnership or marriage

3. Ending a civil partnership

When someone wants to end a civil partnership, they have to cite a reason, but these reasons are not always the same as those for married couples. When a married couple want a divorce, they must cite one of five reasons: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, two years separation (with consent from the other party) and five years separation (without having to obtain consent from the other party). In a civil partnership, adultery cannot be used as a reason to dissolve a civil partnership. This is the only reason out of the five legal grounds for divorce that don’t apply to civil partnerships.

This means that there are only four reasons or ‘grounds’ for dissolving a civil partnership; unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation and five years separation.

There may also be some small legal differences to do with survivor pensions schemes, which your civil partnership solicitor should be able to go into more detail about with you if necessary.

  • Unreasonable Behaviour

If your partner 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 dissolution 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. Austin Kemp’s solicitors have the expertise and experience to handle your civil partnership dissolution case, no matter the circumstances.

  • Desertion

Consistent with legal grounds for divorce, if your civil partner left you and the partnership for at least two years, you could apply for dissolution claiming desertion.

  • Separation For At Least Two Years

Separation for at least two years is a reasonable ground for ending both a civil partnership and a marriage. If you and your civil partner have separated for at least two years and you both agree, you can file for dissolution.

  • Separation For At Least Five Years

Similar to the above, if you have separated from your civil partner for at least five years, you can file for dissolution. However, in the case of a five year separation, you can proceed with a dissolution without the other party’s agreement.

Separation for either two or five years provides reason to believe the civil partnership has broken down beyond retrieval, providing legal grounds for dissolution.

Differences in financial statutes

Financial claims for those ending a civil partnership come from different laws to those ending a marriage. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1972 applies to marriage, and The Civil Partnership Act 2004 applies to civil partnerships.

The financial aspect of 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 as a reason for divorce for those ending a marriage.
  • 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.

The Similarities Between Marriage and Civil Partnership

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

If you are uncertain about legal rights surrounding your civil partnership or dissolution, such as financial provisions, child contact and arrangements, Austin Kemp offers a free consultation for qualifying cases. Contact our team today for more support.

Couples in a civil partnership also include the same next of kin rights in hospitals and exemption from tax inheritance as couples in a marriage. Eligibility for both marriage and civil partnership is similar, as well as the administrative processes.

Who can enter into a civil partnership?

The same ‘entry requirements’ apply to both marriages and civil partnerships.You can enter into a civil partnership if you are:

  • aged 16 years old or over
  • free to form a civil partnership (either single, divorced, widowed or have been in another civil partnership which has now been dissolved)
  • not closely related to the person you want to enter into a civil partnership with.
  • Those who are under 18 years old will need parental consent.

Can I convert my civil partnership into a marriage?

It is possible to convert a civil partnership into a marriage and receive a legally recognised marriage certificate, which will be dated to the time your civil partnership was originally formed. Although, it is not possible for opposite sex couples to convert a civil partnership into a marriage in England and Wales.

To convert a civil partnership, this can be done either at a local registration office or a “religious or approved premises where same sex marriages are allowed”. For more information, the government provide guidelines on converting a civil partnership. 

Civil partnership or marriage – Do you need help?

Our expert civil partnership 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 about civil partnerships, call our divorce and civil partnership dissolution solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or

Our expert civil partnership 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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