Call for an initial consultation

  • Sheffield 0114 272 9184
  • Chesterfield 01246 229 393
  • Hathersage 01433650718

The legal differences between cohabitation, marriage, and civil partnerships

Graysons’ explain the legal rights and differences of cohabiting partners, civil partnerships, and marriages.

Last updated on January 11th, 2024 at 10:24 am

How do I enter a civil partnership and how does it differ from marriage? 

Civil partnership was first introduced into the UK in 2004 for same-sex couples. Following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, civil partnerships were extended to all couples in 2019. Entering into a civil partnership has since become a popular option with couples who don’t want to get married, but still wish to have some legal protection and be recognised officially as a couple. There are a myriad reasons why couples may not want to get married. These may include personal religious beliefs, having already been married before, or simply objecting to the patriarchal associations of marriage.

But what exactly is a civil partnership, and how does it differ from marriage? If you’re considering formalising your commitment to your significant other, but don’t want to get married, then a civil partnership might offer the ideal solution. We’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about civil partnerships. 

What is a civil partnership?

Just like being married, a civil partnership is a legally binding arrangement that gives the couple certain benefits that are not extended to people who are cohabiting. Many people view a civil partnership as a “soft” option to getting married. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A civil partnership should be entered into with the same caution and consideration as a marriage. And, just like a marriage, it should ideally be viewed as a lifetime commitment. A marriage lawyer will be able to advise on the legal differences between marriage and civil partnerships. 

How do I legally enter into a civil partnership? 

How you enter a civil partnership is different from marriage. A marriage is formed by vows, whereas you enter a civil partnership by signing a civil partnership agreement. However, much of the formalities are very similar.

To enter a civil partnership, you must first give notice in person of your intention to register at your local register office. You will have to provide certain personal details, such as your date of birth and address, as well as your passport or birth certificate. You will also be asked to provide details as to where and when the civil partnership is to be formalised so make sure you have already decided on your venue!

A notice of your intention to register a civil partnership will be posted in a register office, and if there are no objections, after 28 days you will be able to go ahead with the civil partnership. At the civil partnership ceremony, you will sign a civil partnership document, which must be signed in front of a registrar and two witnesses. 

Who can enter into a civil partnership UK? 

Following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2018, civil partnerships can now be entered into by all couples, as long as the following circumstances apply:

  • You must both be 16 years or over. If you are under 18, you will usually be asked to get written permission from your parents or legal guardians. If you are unable to get written approval, or your parents or legal guardians refuse, then you have to apply to a court for permission. A marriage lawyer will be able to do this for you. 
  • Neither of you are already married or in a civil partnership
  • You are not close blood relatives
  • You have lived in the same area of England or Wales for at least the last seven days.

What are the advantages of a civil partnership?

Just like a marriage, a civil partnership offers protection in respect of legal and financial rights, as well as tax, pensions, and inheritance benefits. Some examples of benefits include: 

  • If you are in a civil partnership, you can inherit wealth from your partner without a tax charge. If you are not in a legal civil partnership or married you will pay inheritance tax on any wealth you inherit over and above £325,000.
  • Those who are married or in a civil partnership can also transfer to their partner a proportion of their unused tax-free personal allowance, if they are a higher rate tax payer. 
  • If you own multiple properties, you will be able to transfer assets to your partner free of capital gains tax
  • Inheritance benefits include entitlement to your partner’s estate, particularly if they die without a will. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, and there is no will, then you will have no claim to your partner’s estate. 

What are the disadvantages of a civil partnership? 

There are some disadvantages of a civil partnership. Some examples include:

  • You can only have one main residence per civil partnership. If you both have property when you enter into a civil partnership, you will have to decide which to list as your main residence. If you sell the other residence, it will not qualify for the full private residence relief. 
  • If you want to end your civil partnership, you will have to apply to the courts for a dissolution order. Just like divorce, this can be a time-consuming, stressful, and costly matter. If you do decide to end your civil partnership, you should contact a qualified marriage/civil partnership lawyer. 

Are you husband and wife when you enter a civil partnership? 

When you enter into a civil partnership, you are not legally known as husband and wife. In a civil partnership, you are known as civil partners. 

Can I convert a civil partnership to marriage? 

Yes, in England and Wales you can convert a same-sex civil partnership to a marriage, however you cannot convert an opposite-sex civil partnership to a marriage. If you are in a same-sex civil partnership, you can convert this to a marriage at a register office, or at a religious venue, such as a church, where same-sex marriages are allowed. You will need to sign a conversion to marriage declaration.  The date of your marriage will be backdated to the date that you entered into a civil partnership. 

What if I want to end my civil partnership?

A civil partnership can only be ended when one of you dies, or by legally ending it, by asking the courts for a dissolution order. The formalities of obtaining a dissolution order are much the same as for a divorce, in that you must apply to the court for a dissolution.  A dissolution can be applied for you one of you or jointly.

How can Graysons help? 

If you want advice about civil partnerships, or wish to end a civil partnership, then contact our team of experienced family law solicitors.

scroll to top