Civil Partnership vs Marriage: What’s The Difference?

If you’re thinking of formalising your relationship, first of all - congrats! After the bubbly has popped and you’ve carefully curated your vision board for the big day, you might take a moment to consider which legal arrangement might be better suited to you: a civil partnership or marriage?


You see, without sucking the romance out of things entirely, it’s important to note that both marriage and civil partnerships are legal arrangements. They are a way of binding two people together in the eyes of the law. As such, whether you get married or enter into a civil partnership, it’s not just about the rings, what you wear, or the venue but also how you will share your lives together, including your money, assets and children.

Deciding between a civil partnership or marriage is kind of a big deal and it’s worth taking a moment between cake tasting to give it some thought.

In this article, we will explore the legal, financial, and social aspects of both traditional marriage and civil partnerships to help you decide which is right for you and the next steps you can take to get the ball rolling.

What is a civil partnership?

Civil partnerships are a way for same-sex couples to make a legally recognised commitment to one another.

A civil partnership is similar, but not identical to marriage. For this reason married couples cannot call themselves civil partners for legal purposes and vice versa. However, civil partnerships do give couples the same rights and responsibilities as marriage.

What is a marriage?

Marriage is a legally recognised union between two people. When two people get married, they are not only acknowledging their relationship, but agreeing to certain rights and obligations relating to property, assets, pensions, children, inheritance and tax.

Getting married, in the eyes of the law, is essentially entering into a legally binding contract.

Key Differences Between Civil Partnerships and Marriage


Civil partnerships and marriages are separate legal arrangements. It’s not just semantics. When it comes to formation, annulment, dissolution, recognition and legal benefits, there are key differences that you should be aware of before making a decision.


A marriage is formed (or solemnised) when a couple say certain words in a certain order (vows) as part of a civil ceremony, or a religious ceremony, such as:

I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (your name) may not be joined in matrimony to (your partner’s name).

If a wedding ceremony is religious, a wedding can be officiated by a religious leader such as a vicar, rabbi, or priest. For non-denominational weddings, registrars officiate them in licensed venues.

As well as saying the required vows, a couple must also sign a marriage certificate or schedule, that includes the name of both of their fathers (or step fathers). This certificate should also be signed by two witnesses.

A civil partnership is different as it is classed as a ‘civil event’ rather than a ceremony. A couple forming a civil partnership don’t have to say any vows for the partnership to be legally binding, but they can if they want to.

One of the key differences between civil partnerships and marriages is that civil ceremonies can’t include anything religious (like hymns or readings from the Bible or the Torah). If a couple wishes to add a religious element to proceedings they can arrange for a religious blessing to take place after the civil ceremony instead.

Civil partnerships are formalised by both parties signing the civil partnership document in front of two witnesses and a registrar at either a register office or any venue approved by the local council.

Divorce and Dissolution

Previously, a key difference between ending a marriage and a civil partnership legally was that a marriage could be ended on the grounds that it has broken down irretrievably because of adultery. This was not the case for civil partnerships.

However, that has changed recently with the introduction of no fault divorce through The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020). While previously a spouse had to cite grounds for divorce such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery, now a couple can apply for divorce by simply saying their marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The situation is much the same for civil partners seeking dissolution of their civil partnership. There are no ‘grounds’ or ‘facts’ which need to be proved. Instead couples can just state that the partnership has broken down irretrievably.


Civil partners and spouses generally enjoy the same benefits, rights and obligations as spouses including:

Can you convert a civil partnership into a marriage?

Same-sex civil partners in England and Wales can convert their civil partnership into a marriage. However, opposite-sex civil partners can’t do the same.

This can be done at a register office, local registration office or a religion or approved premises where same-sex marriages are allowed. Couples wishing to do this have to sign a ‘conversion into marriage’ declaration with the superintendent registrar.

Civil Partnership or Marriage: Which is right for you?


While there are some differences between civil partnership and marriage (mostly in relation to their formation), legally there aren’t many differences when it comes to benefits, rights, and obligations.

Generally, whether a couple chooses to get married or form a civil partnership often comes down to how they feel about traditional marriage.

At Lawhive, our expert family lawyers can help you understand the benefits and legal implications of marriage and civil partnerships, as well as other legal arrangements you might consider in formalising your relationship such as prenuptial agreements and cohabitation agreements.

For further information, tell us about your situation and needs to get a no-obligation fixed fee quote from the best solicitor for your case.

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