What’s the difference between same sex marriage and a civil partnership?

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In 2004, Parliament passed the Civil Partnership Act which allowed couples of the same sex to enter into civil partnerships. And in 2013, Parliament introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which legally allowed same-sex couples to marry. But what’s the difference?

Tom Powles, who is a Partner in our family law team, explains.

How does same-sex marriage differ from a civil partnership?

Same-sex couples in the UK can currently choose between a civil partnership and marriage, a choice that was also made available to heterosexual couples in 2019.

Surprisingly though, the differences between marriage and a civil partnership are not significant and include the following:

  1. For legal purposes, civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’, and married couples cannot refer to themselves as being ‘civil partners’.
  2. When it comes to getting a divorce or dissolution, adultery cannot be stated as grounds for dissolving a civil partnership but can be for marriage.
  3. Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents, whereas marriage certificates only contain the father’s name.
  4. Civil partnerships are registered by signing the civil partnerships document, whereas marriages are solemnised by saying a prescribed form of words.

What are the similarities between marriage and civil partnerships?

There are a number of similarities between same-sex marriage and civil partnerships, the main one being that you can seek a divorce or dissolution on the same grounds (other than adultery).

The grounds for divorce or dissolution are:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for two years
  • Separation for two years (with the respondent’s consent to the divorce or dissolution)
  • Separation for five years (with no consent required)

In both civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, couples have to be over the age of 18, or 16 with their parent’s permission, and not be already married or in a civil partnership.

Can I convert my civil partnership to a marriage?

Yes, and it’s pretty simple. Couples who are already in a civil partnership but who wish to be married can change their relationship status at a registry office.

You will need to present your original civil partnership certificate, show your ID and pay a small admin fee (currently £45). A marriage certificate carries an additional cost, with there being a further fee should you wish to have a ceremony. You can find up-to-date costs here.

Further information

For more information on civil partnerships or to speak to a solicitor specialising in divorce or family law, call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.


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