From January 2020 all couples in England and Wales can choose between a civil partnership or a marriage.
Civil partnerships were created by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, and remained the only option for same-sex couples until same-sex marriage was legalised in March 2014.
Following a Supreme Court ruling that allowing civil partnerships to same-sex couples, but not to opposite sex couples, was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, civil partnerships were made available to opposite sex couples with effect from January 2020. So now marriage and civil partnership are now available to all couples. But which is the best to choose?
Legally there is very little difference between the two. Civil partnerships were intended to replicate marriage in practically all respects except the name. So the legal relationship between civil partners and between a married couples are virtually identical. You have exactly the same rights and obligations and you will be in the same position when it comes to questions of inheritance, and the law relating to any children of the relationship.
The process for dissolving a civil partnership is also very similar to the process for obtaining a divorce, with some very minor modifications and changes of vocabulary. So the information on this website is equally applicable to both.
The law concerning any financial issues between separating civil partners is also virtually identicle to that applied to a divorcing couple; the courts seek to achieve a “fair settlement” between the parties giving first priority to the needs of any children, and there is the same scope for maintenance orders, orders transferring assets between the parties and pension sharing etc. The information on this website about resolving the financial issues which arise on divorce applies equally on dissolution of a civil partnership.
The position is not the same in all other countries, so if you have a particular link with some other part of the world, you may want to check whether it makes any difference under the law of that country. Some countries do not recognise civil partnerships at all.
But, for the purposes of the law of England and Wales, it really makes very little difference whether you choose a marriage or a civil partnership. It all comes down to a matter of personal choice. It is also possible for a same sex couple to convert their civil partnership to a marriage at a later date, but that option doesn't seem to be available to opposite sex couples.
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.
We are based in Bristol and Exeter, but we have clients all over the UK and further afield. We offer, simply, clear and accurate advice about divorce and family law issues, and the very best client service, for a clear and reasonable price.