What’s the Difference between Marriage and Civil Partnership?

21 January 2020

While the legal rights of civil partners and married couples are largely the same, there are some key differences in the process of registering or ending a civil partnership compared with a marriage. We explain what those differences are.

Mixed Sex Civil Partnerships

Until recently, one of the most significant differences between civil partnerships and marriage was that mixed sex couples could not enter into a civil partnership. This, however, is no longer the case. Following a long legal battle, the first mixed sex civil partnerships were registered in England and Wales on 31 December 2019.

Civil partnerships were originally introduced in 20014 as a way for same sex couples to obtain legal recognition for their relationship, before same sex marriage was legalised in 2014. In recent years, there have been growing calls for civil partnerships to also be opened up to mixed sex couples. With the popularity of marriage ever declining, many felt that it was important for all couples to have an alternative choice to formalise their relationship.

Some feel that civil partnerships are more equal, while marriage is sometimes criticised as a patriarchal and outdated tradition.

Key Differences between Marriage and Civil Partnership

Civil partnerships and marriage both offer couples the same property rights, pension rights and other legal rights. The tax allowances available to couples in a civil partnership are also the same as they are for married couples. The key differences between the two types of union come down to the formalities that need to be carried out when they are entered into or when they are ended.

To enter into a marriage, a marriage certificate needs to be completed and this must contain the names of both people's fathers. To register a civil partnership, a similar certificate must be completed but this requires the names of both parents of each person, instead of just the fathers.

A civil partnership is formalised through the signing of a document called the schedule of civil partnership. This is different to marriage which is formalised by each person saying a set of prescribed words, or 'vows.'

Civil partnerships do not have any religious grounding, but instead are entirely secular. Marriages, on the other hand, can be conducted in a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony (although certain religions do not recognise same sex marriages).

In addition, couples in a civil partnership cannot legally refer to themselves as being married.

Aside from these formalities, the day to day life of a couple in a civil partnership is likely to be much the same as it would be for a married couple.

Ending a Civil Partnership

If a couple wishes to end their civil partnership, there is a set process that must be followed for this, which is similar to the divorce process for married couples. But again, there are some key differences.

To get divorced in England or Wales, you need to prove to the Court that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, and this must be because of either:

  1. Your spouse's adultery
  2. Your spouse's unreasonable behaviour
  3. Your spouse having deserted you
  4. You and your spouse having lived separately for 2 or more years (if you both consent to the divorce)
  5. You and your spouse having lived separately for 5 of more years (if you don't both consent to the divorce)

To dissolve a civil partnership, the same must be proven, but adultery cannot be cited as a reason, meaning this must be based on one of the 4 other facts.

If you want have any questions about the process for ending a marriage or civil partnership, our Family Law Solicitors can provide you with comprehensive advice and guidance.

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