How can I convert my opposite sex civil partnership to a marriage?
Updated: May 19
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 for same sex couples only who, at that time, were not permitted to marry. In 2014 same-sex marriages were introduced, and then civil partnerships were extended to opposite sex couples from January 2020. At the same time a fairly simple route was introduced to allow a civil partnership to be converted to a marriage, and the date of the marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership.
The 2020 changes were introduced following a Supreme Court ruling which said that excluding opposite sex couples from civil partnerships was discriminatory. So, the changes were intended to introduce and recognise equivalence between same sex and opposite sex relationships. But the route to convert a civil partnership to a marriage has not been extended to opposite sex couples.
This causes problems, illustrated by the question I was asked below. The person who asked the question has authorised me to publish it, but I have changed names.
I'll try to keep this as short as possible but it's a bit of a strange situation. My name is Dan. I'm male and from the UK. My civil partner Maria is female and from Spain (but lives with me here in Bristol). In August 2022 we entered into a civil partnership in Bristol in a simple ceremony at the register office. Just before the ceremony one of the registrars asked if we wanted a marriage or a civil partnership ceremony (we chose civil partnership), but they also said that if we wanted to convert it to a marriage instead at a later date this wouldn't be a problem. In UK law they are roughly the same so we were happy to go for a civil partnership. However, we are now thinking of moving to Spain, and we have recently discovered that Spain do not recognise civil partnerships. Upon discovering this we contacted Bristol register office to enquire about converting our civil partnership into a marriage. They have unfortunately been very unhelpful. They are telling us that it's not possible to convert a civil partnership into a marriage at all. This seems at odds with their own website and the government website. They also say that we cannot simply dissolve the civil partnership and get married instead. We just want to be considered legal partners in both countries, which seems to only be possible if we are married rather than in a civil partnership. Would you be able to advise us on our options? Is there any way for us to convert our civil partnership into a marriage? The Bristol register office's own website seems to suggest there is (for same sex couples at least, which seems discriminatory if this is not open to opposite sex couples?). As we seem to have been given faulty information during our ceremony, is there any way we could void the civil partnership, freeing us up to perform a new marriage ceremony instead? From our research, it seems like one option would be to wait until the civil partnership is a year old, apply to dissolve it, then get married. However, this is obviously less than ideal for several reasons. Are there any other routes available that you would be able to help us with? Any help would be much appreciated. Many thanks
I am a divorce lawyer not a marriage lawyer (!) so this is not part of my usual practice but you ask an interesting question. The conversion process is well publicised, but it is available only to same sex couples.
There is nothing as such to prevent you from simply marrying your partner in England, but it would seem to me that the marriage would be void according to s 11 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which says that a marriage is void if (amongst other things) at the time of the marriage either party was already ‘lawfully a civil partner’. You might expect it to say ‘… except to the other party to the marriage’ but it doesn’t. This is odd given that the intention has been to introduce parity between same sex and opposite sex couples, and it is almost certainly an unintentional drafting error. But that seems to be the law as it stands, and the consequences of your marriage being void could be quite serous in in the future.
So I think your only option is to wait for a year then dissolve you partnership, and then marry, but you can’t start that until your partnership is a year old, and the dissolution process would take about 8 or 9 months from there. I should add that is possible to apply for a declaration that civil partnership is void without waiting for a year, but I don’t think any of the legal grounds for that would apply to you.
Would you mind if I used your question anonymised on the website to draw attention to this problem?
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John Pratley is an expert divorce lawyer, who has more than 25 years’ experience advising clients purely about divorce and related family law issues, such as the financial consequences of separating and divorcing. After establishing the first niche family law practice in Bristol, and going on to senior management roles in a national firm, John set up Apple Tree Family Law in 2018. Apple Tree Family Law solicitors specialise in advice about divorce and financial issues.
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