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Same sex marriage v civil partnerships – what’s the difference?


In 2004, Parliament passed the Civil Partnership Act which allowed couples of the same sex to enter into civil partnerships. This entitled same sex couples to the same property rights, social security and pension benefits of those who are legally married.

In 2013, Parliament introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – this legally allowed same sex couples to marry. As a result, the UK saw a 49% fall in civil partnerships by 2015.

But how do marriage and civil partnerships differ? Tom Powles, Partner and family law specialist, explains.

So, what are the major differences?

Same sex couples in the UK can currently choose between a civil partnership and marriage – a choice which is (somewhat controversially) not available to heterosexual couples.

Surprisingly though, the differences between the two 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 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.

So what are the similarities?

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.

These are unreasonable behaviour, desertion for two years, separation for two years (with the respondent’s consent to the divorce or dissolution) and separation for five years (with no consent required).

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’ll need to present your original civil partnership certificate, show your ID and pay a small admin fee (currently £45). A marriage certificate will cost an additional £4; with there being a further fee should you wish to have a ceremony.

Further information

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

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