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Civil partnership vs marriage: Is a civil partnership better than a marriage?

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Searching for the best way to commit to your partner or secure your shared finances?

Regardless of whether you’re considering a civil partnership or are eager to go down the more traditional route of marriage, our experienced family law and divorce solicitors can help you choose the right legal path for your family.

We can provide you with all the up-to-date knowledge, advice, and guidance you could need to make an informed decision about your future together as a couple. To help you make this important choice, we take a detailed look at the social and legal differences between a civil partnership and a marriage union.

What is a civil partnership?

Keen to find out more about civil partnership and it’s meaning?

Below, we explore the legal definition of a civil partnership in the UK, the various rights and responsibilities granted by this union, and how it can be ended in the event that one or both parties want to separate and end the partnership.

A civil partnership is a legally-recognised relationship between two unrelated people. By registering a civil relationship, the couple (who can be same-sex or opposite sex) have additional legal rights and responsibilities. An example of these civil partnership legal rights and responsibilities include home rights and next of kin authority for your partner.

The only way that a civil partnership can be ended is if one of the individuals die or you apply to court to legally end the partnership. However, you can only apply to end a civil partnership if it has lasted for at least one year. It’s also worth bearing in mind that while the civil partnership cannot be ended before one year, you can still seek a separation during this time.

What's the difference between civil partnership and marriage?

There are significant and more nuanced legal differences between a civil partnership and marriage – spanning everything from finances to child custody. The primary difference between the two unions, however, is that marriage is formed by vows and involves the signing of a marriage certificate. Marital unions can also be performed in a religious ceremony.

Civil partnerships, on the other hand, are formed with the signing of a civil partnership certificate. Unlike a marriage where certain prescribed words (vows) are required to solemnise the union, civil partnerships require no words to be spoken, only the signing of the civil partnership document is important.

When were civil partnerships introduced and why?

Following the passing of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, civil partnerships were introduced the following year in lieu of same-sex marriage. The main reason for this act was to provide same-sex couples with similar legal recognition as married couples.

While same-sex marriage was met with substantial resistance from Christian churches including the Church of England and Catholic Church, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was able to find away around these objections.

While same-sex marriage in now legal in the UK (and has been since 2014), civil partnerships were the only option for same-sex couples to receive legal recognition for their relationship for almost 10 years. This allowed them to enjoy similar, although not completely identical, legal benefits of marriage. It’s also worth noting that opposite-sex couples could not enter a civil partnership until 31st December 2019 – until this point, their only option was marriage.

What are the most important legal similarities and differences between a civil partnership and a marriage?

Unsure as to whether tying the knot or signing a civil partnership certificate is the right move for your blossoming relationship? Below, we explore the key similarities and differences between a civil partnership and a marriage to help you choose the best route forward. It’s worth mentioning, however, just how similar these unions are becoming as legal efforts grow to equate the rights, obligations, responsibilities and even the language of the two processes

Marriage divorce vs civil partnership dissolution

The only way that a marriage can be ended is through divorce or death. Similarly, civil partnerships can only come to end through death or dissolution. While dissolution is not exactly the same as divorce, it is equal to this process. This is because dissolution shares the same legal processes with divorce – including the fact that they are completed using the same court application and documents.

In order for a civil partnership to be legally ended, both parties must be granted a conditional order (previously referred to as a Decree Nisi until the advent of the new divorce law in April 2022 ) – the first important court order that states the court can see no reason why you cannot divorce) as well as a final order (previously referred to as Decree Absolute )- the legal document that confirms your marriage has officially ended.

While the separation processes have different names, work is ongoing to demonstrate the legal equality of civil partnerships and marriages. As referred to above ,passed into UK law in April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill not only introduced no-fault divorce, but it also changed the traditional terminology for divorces.

Instead of using the terms ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ in divorce, ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Final Order’ will be used in both civil partnerships and divorce procedures, too. It’s hoped this change will help to equate civil partnerships and marriages in the eyes of the law.

Equal estate distribution rights and tax benefits

According to Section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, just like married couples, civil partners are entitled to the same tax benefits and rights to intestate distribution of an estate (an intestate person refers to a person that dies without leaving a will). In this instance, the civil partner that remains with no children will receive the entire estate of their deceased partner. In the case of a married couple, these rights remain the same.

However, if the deceased partner in the civil partnership has children, then the remaining partner will receive the first £250,000, personal belongings and half of the estate. Just like married couples, civil partners are also exempt from inheritance tax on assets which pass on to them when their partner dies, and they won’t need to pay tax for any transfer of assets during the relationship either. Similarly, they can also benefit from each other’s transferable nil rate tax band and residence nil rate tax band.

Maintenance rights and statutory protection

Those in a civil partnership can also take advantage of the same potential rights to maintenance as those who are married. When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, couples have the right to statutory protection, allowing them to potentially make financial claims for maintenance. These claims could be solely for themselves or to support themselves and their children, property, pensions, etc.

In England and Wales, the starting point for the division of assets is 50/50 between the partners, but this division is often adjusted in order to ensure a fair settlement for both parties. Unlike marriages and civil partnerships that are formally recognised by UK law, co-habiting couples are not entitled to the same maintenance claims or a share of the other’s assets.

Custody rights

If a child is born at the time of the parents being married or in a civil partnership, both are given parental responsibility of that child or children. These responsibilities cover a wide range of duties and powers including where the child is educated, which medical treatment or operations the child receives and which religion the child should be raised to follow and practice.

If, however, the parents of the child are not in a civil partnership or married at the time of the child’s birth, the mother is the only one that will be given automatic parental responsibility. If the father wants to obtain parental responsibility, he will need to be registered on the birth certificate either through agreement with the mother of the child or via a court order.

In England and Wales, parents are encouraged to make suitable child arrangements between themselves due to the court’s ‘no order’ policy regarding children. However, in the event that the parents cannot come to a mutually-agreeable arrangement, they can apply to court in order to formalise the arrangements for a child taking into account what is in the best interest of the child..

Civil partnership vs marriage: which is better?

Able to identify many of the same benefits, rights and responsibilities of a marriage, you might be wondering why some couples might opt for a civil partnership instead. There are actually many reasons why couples might choose to register their relationship as a civil partnership instead of getting married. This includes personal beliefs (objection to patriarchy for example) or for religious/traditional reasons (not wanting to get married again).

Due to the relatively more recent changes to civil partnership law and same-sex marriage, there are very few legal differences between a civil partnership and marriage. It’s therefor much more likely that couples will opt for civil partnership over marriage due to their personal or religious beliefs. Instead, co-habiting couples that don’t want to get married are likely to benefit the most from seeking a civil partnership as it gives their relationship legal recognition.

As there’s no strict legal definition of cohabitation under UK law, co-habiting couples that do not wish to legally recognise their relationship (either through marriage or a civil partnership) could face legal difficulties if one of them dies or they split up. In the event that a co-habiting partner passes away, the remaining partner has no automatic entitlement to finances or property – even if they share children

The only way that the remaining partner could be entitled to the deceased’s assets is if the deceased had made a Will leaving these assets to their surviving partner. If, however, they formally recognised their relationship with a civil partnership, they would have far more financial protection following death or a relationship breakdown. This includes financial benefits as well as rights to their home.

Ultimately, the option that is best for you is an entirely personal choice and can only be made as a couple. However, if you’d like to find out more about the specific laws regarding co-habiting couples, civil partnerships and marriages before making your decision, then we recommend seeking expert legal advice.

Receive expert legal divorce advice

If you’re seeking legal support with your divorce or separation, look no further than the expert advice and guidance from Wilson Browne Solicitors. Regardless of whether you’ve chosen to commit to your partner through a civil partnership or marriage, in the event of a relationship breakdown, our specialist divorce solicitors can help.

We can provide dedicated legal support throughout the divorce or separation process – from the moment you file for divorce through to the Decree Absolute pronouncement. Having built an impressive reputation in the Northamptonshire and Leicestershire areas since our advent in 2009, we have more than a decade of experience in a wide range of legal matters.

For all legal issues relating to divorce and separation, we’ve assembled a team of specialist divorce solicitors that can be contacted at any one of our six branches. Our branch locations include the likes of Northampton, Leicester, Kettering, Corby, Higham Ferrers, and Wellingborough, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your nearest Wilson Browne branch to schedule a meeting.

If you’d like to discuss your legal support requirements with a member of our team before paying us a visit, then please feel free to either give us a call on 0800 088 6004 or get in touch using our handy online contact form.

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Helen York


Helen York


Helen is a Family Law Solicitor with a long-established reputation for acting on behalf of clients across the county, for over 25 years. She has been advising and assisting clients on all aspects of relationship breakdown since 1985 and specialises in divorce proceedings, helping clients…