Marriage and Civil Partnerships: What’s the difference?


19 December 2017

By Farhad Islam

In 2005 Civil Partnerships were introduced for same-sex couples. Fast forward to 2014, and same-sex marriage was also made legal, meaning same-sex couples now have the choice between the two. But what are the differences?

Rights for both married couples and couples in a civil partnership are almost identical, although there are a few areas in which they differ.


Civil Partnerships were introduced in the UK in 2005. This allows gay couples to legally register their partnership and gain certain key rights.

These legal rights are almost exactly identical to that of marriage and account for areas such as succession planning, inheritance tax, and the passing of assets if one of the couple were to pass away. These assets can be passed on free of IHT as long as a Will has been written.

One of the differences between civil partnerships and marriages is that civil partners cannot refer to themselves as being married, or as “husband” or “wife” for legal reasons.


Civil partnership ceremonies are different from weddings. A Civil Partnership is not carried out in a church. Marriages can have religious significance, and can be carried out in a church.

Whereas a vicar or priest in a church can complete a marriage, Civil Partnerships are carried out by a local council official (known as a registrar). In a Civil Partnership ceremony, members of both couple’s families have to sign the agreement, whereas in a marriage it is just the bride’s father’s signature that is needed in order to formalise the marriage.

Divorce and Civil Partnership separations

If you are a same-sex married couple that wish to divorce, you will have to go through the standard divorce process. However, if you are in a Civil Partnership, you will need to go to court to dissolve the union. This is because officials will need to legally dissolve the partnership. Your civil partnership must have also lasted at least one year in order to apply for the dissolving of the partnership.

There are different grounds for the subject of adultery when it comes to separation or divorce. In a civil partnership adultery is not grounds for separation of the partnership with infidelity falling under the grounds of “unreasonable behaviour”. In a marriage however, adultery counts as grounds for divorce but infidelity is only legally considered adultery if it is between people of the opposite sex. Same sex infidelity would therefore again come under the grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’.


Marriage is a tradition that is recognised around the world, and if you are looking to emigrate, your marriage will be recognised around the world. A civil partnership however is not recognised in every country and is not legally binding in every country.

Should I get a civil partnership or get married?

Although as noted above, both options gain practically the same legal rights, many people consider the main difference between a marriage and a civil partnership to be religious and traditional connotations associated with marriage, and whether you consider this an issue is down to personal preferences.

A marriage is seen as a more traditional choice, and means you can officially say you are a married couple, as well as call each of “husband” or “wife”.

If you are a straight couple, you are only eligible to get married and are not legally allowed to have a Civil Partnership (according to the Civil Partnership Act, 2004).

If you are a couple who have a civil partnership, but wish to convert this to a marriage, this is also an option.

Our Family Law Team will be happy to assist you with any Family Law or Civil Partnership issues. For a free initial consultation please telephone on 01245 228106 or email

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.