Marriage and civil partnership: a comparison

Civil partnership is now a legal option for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples. Marriage has always been an option for mixed-sex couples and since 2014 it has also been available to same-sex couples England, Wales and Scotland.

First introduced in 2004 for same-sex couples, civil partnership was extended to mixed-sex couples on 31 December 2019.

The rights available to those in a marriage and those in a civil partnership are the same. This includes the same property rights, pension rights, tax allowances and other legal entitlements.

The differences are in the formalities required to put in place or end a union.

Entering into a marriage or civil partnership

A marriage certificate requires the names of both partners’ fathers, while a civil partnership certificate needs the names of both parents.

When you marry, there is a choice of a religious or civil ceremony, although some religions do not acknowledge same-sex marriages. There is no religious option for a civil partnership ceremony.

The civil partnership is formed by the signing of a schedule of civil partnership, rather than the reciting of vows.

People in a civil partnership cannot legally refer to themselves as married. Other than these differences, marriage and civil partnership are very similar.

Ending a marriage or civil partnership

In order to obtain a divorce, a married person must be able to demonstrate to the court that their relationship has irretrievably broken down. One of five criteria will need to be cited, as follows:

  • Adultery on the part of a spouse;
  • Spouse’s unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion by spouse for two years;
  • Living apart for two years (with the consent of both spouses to the divorce); or
  • Living apart for five years (without spouse’s consent to divorce).

With regard to a civil partnership, adultery is not an option, but one of the remaining four facts must be shown.

Converting a civil partnership to marriage

It is possible to convert a civil partnership to a marriage. Some couples find this preferable as being a civil partner who entered into the agreement before 31 December 2019 makes it obvious that they are in a same-sex couple and they may not wish to make this public, for example, when filling in forms.

Conversion of a civil partnership can be done at a register office or at some marriage premises in England and Wales, with different rules for Scotland.

If you would like to discuss marriage or civil partnership requirements, speak to one of our expert family lawyers on 0345 2413100 or email us at

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