Civil Partnership v Marriage – the differences explained

The issue of civil partnership is a hot topic of debate at the moment with a Private Members Bill before Parliament calling for a review on the current laws.

Introduced into the UK in 2004, there have been many changes since the act came into force. Nine years later, legislation to allow same-sex marriages was passed. There is often confusion about the differences between marriage and civil partnership but from a legal perspective, the two unions are very similar.

Essentially, the fundamental difference is that only same-sex couples can enter into a civil partnership but this could potentially change in the future depending on the outcome of court proceedings and the Private Members Bill.

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal relationship which can only be registered by two people of the same sex. It gives legal recognition and added rights as well as responsibilities. Basically, civil partners have the same legal rights as married couples in many areas of the law including parental responsibility, child maintenance, inheritance tax, social security, tenancy rights, full life insurance recognition and next of kin rights.

From 2014, couples who registered a civil partnership in England and Wales have been able to change this to a marriage through a simple administrative process called a ‘standard’ conversion or a two-stage process whereby the conversion may be followed by a ceremony. There is a £4 fee for a marriage certificate and couples need to be able to present the original partnership certificate and provide the necessary ID.

In England, Wales and Scotland, both opposite and same-sex couples can marry in a civil or religious marriage ceremony.

Comparisons

We mentioned earlier that in most matters and from a legal standpoint, the rights are the same. However, there are subtle contrasts in some areas.

Ending the relationship

A civil partnership is ended by a Dissolution Order whereas a marriage is ended by a Decree Absolute of divorce.

The Ceremony

Civil partnerships are registered by signing the civil partnerships document and there is not a requirement for a ceremony to take place or to exchange vows. Marriages are established by the exchange of words and in the form of a religious or civil ceremony.

Certificates

Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties whereas marriage certificates only include the fathers’ names. The Private Members Bill we mentioned earlier is calling for mothers’ names to be included too.

Overseas

Some countries recognise civil partnerships whilst others do not so when it comes to travelling or decisions to move abroad, this could cause issues. Marriage is recognised as a legally binding institution throughout the world.

The future of civil partnerships

With the introduction of same sex marriages in England and Wales in 2014, the number of civil partnerships fell. According to House of Commons library research, in 2015  there were just over a thousand civil partnerships formed. In contrast, there were 7,366 marriages between same-sex couples in England and Wales between 29 March 2014 and 30 June 2015.

Some couples prefer the idea of a civil partnership for a variety of reasons; it gives them legal and financial protection; they may object to marriage as an institution and its associations with property and patriarchy; it’s free of the religious connotations of marriage; they see it as a more modern way of formalising their relationship.

One opposite-sex couple who want to form a civil partnership instead of marriage have recently been granted the right to take their case to the Supreme Court. Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld are challenging the Civil Partnership Act 2004 arguing the Government’s position is ‘incompatible with the equality of law’. Their case will be heard by the Supreme Court, the highest Court in the UK, in May.

 

Andrew Meehan is individually recommended for family law by both Chambers UK and the Legal 500. He is also a Resolution accredited specialist solicitor for divorce cases involving complex financial and property matters.

 

This article has been prepared with the aim of providing general information only and does not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While we aim to ensure that the information is correct at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. In addition, everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be relied upon. If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing enquiries@harrogatefamilylaw.co.uk. Harrogate Family Law accepts no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss or damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of any part of our website, except to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.

Warning for unmarried couples over common law marriage myth

As the trend for couples to live together without marrying continues to rise, efforts are underway to make them aware that common law marriage is a myth and they are not automatically entitled to the level of legal protection that applies to married couples.

There is still a misconception that couples who share their home and finances have certain rights, whether they are married or not. This assumption is unfortunately resulting in some people being left homeless and facing financial hardship if their relationship breaks down.

When to seek advice

Ideally, couples should seek legal advice when they first move in together but it can be done later, even when they have been living under the same roof for many years and perhaps have a family together. In fact, those who are in an established relationship like this, where assets and parental responsibilities are closely interwoven, are strongly urged to take action to protect themselves.

It is simply not true that if you have lived together for a long time and have a family together you are protected under “common law marriage” and are therefore more likely to be viewed by the courts as if you were a married couple. When married couples divorce, their assets are divided fairly. When cohabitees separate they have no automatic legal rights. They are not entitled to claim financial support from their partner and they have no right to a share of their pension. As far as the family home is concerned, for married couples this is dealt with under family law and is considered as part of the joint assets whereas for unmarried couples it is dealt with under property law. That leaves people vulnerable if they have moved into a property owned by their partner or their partner’s family.

How to protect yourself

The ideal time to take action is when you first move in together. It may not be the most romantic of conversations, but it’s an important one to have. This is when you can decide how the property will be owned and how bills will be shared.

We can help you draw up a cohabitation agreement that sets out how property and assets will be divided if you split up and whether you would like to put in place any provision for future financial support. It is important to remember that you will not automatically inherit property or other assets if one of you dies and it is therefore advisable to make wills.

As family law specialists, we can help you make the right decisions now to ensure you and your family are fully protected if your relationship breaks down in the future. Everybody’s personal circumstances are different and the arrangements made by one couple may not suit another. Our experience allows us to spot any potential pitfalls and set measures in place that will provide you with the best possible financial arrangement should you end up living apart.

What to do if your relationship is ending

 The law is complex and it is recommended that you seek advice from a lawyer who specialises in advising cohabitees.  A specialist lawyer will be able to advise on all of the options available to you because these vary from the obvious to the obscure.

Read Carol Jessop’s interview on this subject on Stray FM.

 

Andrew Meehan is individually recommended for family law by both Chambers UK and the Legal 500. He is also a Resolution accredited specialist solicitor for divorce cases involving complex financial and property matters.

This article has been prepared with the aim of providing general information only and does not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While we aim to ensure that the information is correct at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. In addition, everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be relied upon. If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing enquiries@harrogatefamilylaw.co.uk. Harrogate Family Law accepts no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss or damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of any part of our website, except to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.

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