In the UK, there are two routes to making your relationship legally recognised: marriage and civil partnership. But what is the difference between the two options? This post explores civil partnership vs marriage in greater detail, to give you the information you need to answer your questions or even make a decision on which one is right for you.
What is the difference between civil partnership and marriage?
When looking at civil partnership vs marriage, it’s important to understand that they are fundamentally the same thing in the eyes of the law. Married spouses and civil partners have both undergone a legal union that give them certain rights and responsibilities.
So, you may be wondering about the differences between marriage vs civil partnership. Here are the key differentiations:
- The ceremony. A marriage can take place in a religious ceremony (although it doesn’t have to be) and is formed through vows before signing a marriage certificate. On the other hand, a civil partnership is entered into by signing a civil partnership certificate.
- Civil partnerships cannot call themselves ‘married’ in a legal context.
- Marriages are ended by divorce, the final stage of which is the Decree Absolute. Civil partnerships are ended through dissolution. You can find out more about divorce vs dissolution here.
Is civil partnership the same as a marriage? What are the similarities?
Civil partnerships give couples the same rights, benefits, and obligations that they would have in a marriage. So, you could say that there are more similarities than differences when it comes to civil partnership vs marriage. Here are some of the key similarities:
- There are only two ways to end a civil partnership or marriage: through the death of one spouse or civil partner, or through legally ending the marriage by divorce or dissolution.
- When children are born to two parents in a marriage or civil partnership, both parents are automatically given parental responsibility. If the relationship breaks down and the parents divorce or the civil partnership is dissolved, they have the same rights and responsibilities when it comes to making arrangements and decisions for the children post-separation.
- Upon divorcing or dissolving a civil partnership , the same potential rights to maintenance exist. This deals with the separation of assets. The starting point for division is typically 50/50 in England and Wales, but fairness and the needs of each party and any children are also considered.
- When one of the people in the marriage or civil partnership dies, the same rules of intestacy are applied. This means that, if there is no will and no children, the entire estate will pass to the surviving partner. If there are children, the surviving partner will inherit the first £250,000, the personal belongings, and half of the remaining estate.
- Tax laws are the same for spouses and civil partners. This includes the same exemption from inheritance tax, and the ability for one partner to pass their nil rate tax band to the other.
Why have a civil partnership instead of marriage?
There are a few reasons why couples may choose a civil partnership vs marriage. For example, before 2013, same sex couples were not able to get married, so civil partnership was the only option. Other couples may not agree with the tradition and social connotations of marriage, and so choose civil partnership as a way to have their relationship legally recognised without having to have a marriage ceremony. Overall, it is a personal choice for each couple to decide for themselves.
What are the disadvantages of civil partnership vs marriage?
Marriages and civil partnerships are fundamentally the same thing in the eyes of the law in the UK and so there are not really any major disadvantages of one over the other. However, civil partnerships are not recognised in some places of the world, so you may encounter issues while travelling or if you move to a different country where they are not recognised.
Can a civil partnership be converted into a marriage?
Yes, civil partnerships can be converted into marriages in England, Wales, and Scotland. Different paperwork is required in Scotland, and civil partnerships cannot be converted to marriages in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, marriages cannot be converted to civil partnerships.
Is civil partnership for straight couples?
There is a misconception that civil partnership is only available for same sex couples. This probably came about as, before The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 that allowed same sex couples to get married, civil partnership was the only option available to them if they wanted their relationship to be registered and come with legal rights.
Civil partnerships were actually introduced in 2004 as a way to give same sex couples the same legal rights as married couples of the opposite sex, and mixed-sex couples initially couldn’t enter into them. This was overturned in 2019 for England and Wales, 2020 for Northern Ireland, and 2021 for Scotland. Now, civil partnerships are available to all couples everywhere in the UK.
For more information about civil partnership vs marriage, including the requirements to enter into either one, you can refer to the gov.uk website here.
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