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What is the Difference Between Civil Partnership and Marriage?

February 22, 2022

Many people often wonder what is the difference between a civil partnership and marriage. It is sometimes a difficult choice for a cohabiting couple to decide which union would work best for them.

We discuss what the key differences are between the two, and explain the reasons behind why couples opt for one legal union over the other.

What is Marriage?

Marriage is a legally recognised union with a formal contract between two individuals in a dedicated, personal relationship.

Both heterosexual and homosexual couples can be married in the UK. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised marriages between same sex couples from March 2014.

A marriage can only be ended through two methods; a divorce or annulment. 

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation is where a couple is living together and in a personal relationship, but aren’t married or in a civil partnership. Couples typically cohabitate (often called common law partners) before entering into a legal union.

Cohabiting doesn’t offer you any rights like you would in a marriage or civil partnership – you’ll have no rights to the others assets or pension if you split, and it is harder to solidify parental rights.

What is a Civil Partnership?

A civil partnership is a form of civil union where two individuals in a personal relationship register as civil partners of one another.

Civil partnerships were introduced to same sex couples in 2004 and to opposite sex couples in 2019.

A civil partnership can only be ended through dissolution, annulment or upon death of one or both parties.

You can read more about civil partnership dissolution and how our solicitors can help in our dedicated guide.

What is the difference between a Civil Partnership and Marriage?

There is very little difference between a Marriage and a Civil Partnership in terms of the personal relationship both couples would be bound to. In terms of separation however, Marriage is ended by divorce by obtaining a decree absolute and Civil Partnerships are ended by a dissolution order.

There are some key differences however, when looking at both their legal rights.

The main legal rights of married couples and couples in a civil partnership are as follows:

  • Married couples cannot call themselves civil partners for legal purposes and likewise, civil partners cannot call themselves married, again for legal purposes.
  • Marriages are solemnised by saying a prescribed form of words. Civil Partnerships are registered by signing civil partnership documents – no specific words are required to be spoken.
  • Marriages can be conducted through either a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony, if the religious organisation has agreed to solemnise marriages of same sex couples according to its rites. The formation of a civil partnership however, is an entirely civil event.

Marriage and annulments 

A marriage can be annulled for the following reasons:

  1. If either party did not validly consent to the marriage;
  2. If either party was suffering from a mental disorder of such a kind as to render them unfit for marriage;
  3. If at the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form;
  4. If the respondent was pregnant at the time of the marriage by some person other than the petitioner.

Non-consummation of marriage however, is not a ground for annulment in same sex marriages or in civil partnerships.

It is very important to ensure that you are fully aware of which contract you are entering into. They may seem similar if you were to attend a Registry Office, but they can impact heavily on your legal rights. 

Our Family Law Solicitors here at AFG Law can advise clients in respect of these matters.

Can you get married if you are in a civil partnership?

A same sex couple can convert their civil partnership into a marriage in England and Wales. An opposite sex civil partnership cannot be converted into a marriage.

A ‘conversion into marriage’ declaration must be obtained and signed by both parties, in person, at a Registry Office.

You also have the option to have a legal ceremony if you wish to do so, though this isn’t obligatory.

What is the advantage of a civil partnership over marriage?

The main advantage of a civil partnership is that a couple can obtain the same rights that you would in marriage, without having to have a marital ceremony. 

Civil partners share the same rights in:

  • Property;
  • Pensions and benefits;
  • And parental responsibility.

Civil partners can also be:

  • Legally classed as the other’s ‘next of kin’ in an emergency setting
  • Exempt from inheritance tax
  • Granted access to the full estate when the other dies (if there is no will)
  • Granted access to fair division of assets if the relationship ends

In a nutshell, a civil partnership allows couples to have the same legal and financial rights and benefits of that of a married couple, without getting married. Civil partnerships are particularly useful for couples that don’t want to marry but are cohabiting.

Civil partnerships are also void of religious connotations and the patriarchal history that marriage has.

What are the benefits of marriage over a civil partnership?

Marriage and Civil Partnerships are effectively the same when it comes to what rights couples have. There are a few conditions however, that don’t apply to civil partnerships but do in a marriage. These are:

  • Adultery only applies to marriages in divorce, as the definition of adultery is sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex outside of the marriage;
  • A civil partnership cannot be annulled if, at the time of the marriage, the respondent was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form, but a marriage can be;
  • If a party to the marriage dies, they have more rights with pensions. If a civil partner dies, the pension that the other partner receives will be lower and will last for a shorter period of time;
  • Civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes, but of course married couples can.

There are no significant differences between marriage and civil partnerships – it is mostly down to personal preference whether someone wants to be wed or come together in a civil union.

Civil Partnership and Marriage Solicitors at AFG

You may need the help of a solicitor if you wish to have a marriage or a civil partnership annulled. At AFG, our solicitors are highly qualified and experienced in dealing with civil partnership dissolution and divorce.
Get in touch with our team today to discuss your situation and find out what the best course of action will be for you.