What are the Differences Between Marriage and Civil Partnership?

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Both marriage and civil partnerships are legally binding in England and Wales, with contracts signed by each person. While they have many similarities, not least due to the fact that they’re both recognised by the law, there are some subtle differences.

What is a marriage? 

Marriage is a historical concept that exists in multiple societies, cultures and religions and, in England and Wales, is recognised as a voluntary life contract between two people with legal rights for both partners. Opposite and same-sex couples can marry as long as both partners are aged 18 or over (or 16 with parental consent), are not related and are not already married.

A marriage is conducted via a ceremony which can take place at a register office, a church or a legally licenced building or wedding venue such as a castle or stately home. Wherever you choose, you’ll need to give notice. If you’re planning a church wedding, banns can be read in the church for three Sundays before the wedding. For a register office ceremony, you’ll need to give 28 days’ notice before getting married.

What is a civil partnership?

Civil partnerships were brought into law in 2004 to allow same-sex couples to form a legal partnership and have similar rights to those who are married. 2013 saw the legalisation of same-sex marriages and, from 2018, the law was amended to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership.

While this form of legal partnership cannot include a religious ceremony, the legalities around the partnership remain the same.

The other main difference is how they’re legally ended. A marriage results in divorce whereas a civil partnership ends with dissolution. In either situation, and especially where children are involved, it’s a good idea to seek advice from family law solicitors when it comes to separation.

Can civil partnerships be converted into marriage?

In England and Wales, a civil partnership can be converted into a marriage. For example, a same-sex couple who entered into a civil partnership before being married became legal might wish to convert to marriage. This can be done by filling in the relevant documentation at your local register office via an appointment.

Is marriage or civil partnership right for me?  

This depends on your personal social and religious views but both options are available to partners in England and Wales, whether of the same sex or opposite sex. Couples often choose a civil partnership if they disagree with the traditional or religious elements of marriage, yet still want the legal rights that married couples have. It’s also sometimes viewed as the modern alternative to marriage.

Other couples might prefer the formalities of a traditional ceremony or have religious beliefs and decide that marriage is the right option for them.

Ultimately, the choice of a civil partnership or marriage is up to the couple but, from a legal standpoint, they are nearly identical.

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