same sex couple civil partnership

What is the Difference Between a Civil Partnership and a Marriage?

Following the news that civil partnerships are now available to same sex and mixed sex couples, we look at the difference between civil partnership and marriage.

What is a Civil Partnership?

Civil partnerships are a form of civil union. They are granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which was put in place to allow same sex couples to unite in a partnership that is essentially the same as marriage, but without some of the same legal rights.


same sex couple civil partnership

They were originally introduced as an interim measure whilst equal marriage was being approved. However, as same sex couples were then able to choose between a civil partnership and marriage, Prime Minister Theresa May declared at the 2018 Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that civil partnerships will become available to mixed sex couples too, allowing everyone the same choices when it comes to marriage.

Read more: What is a Sand Ceremony?

The key differences in a civil partnership to a marriage are:

  • Couples joined through a civil partnership cannot call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes
  • Civil partnerships cannot be dissolved due to adultery – whereas in a marriage adultery can be grounds for divorce. Adultery is not recognised in civil partnerships
  • Civil partnership certificates include names of the parents of both participants, whereas marriage certificates require only the names of the fathers of the couple

What is a Civil Marriage?

Civil marriages result in the same legal rights as a religious marriage, but the ceremony is different and includes no references to gods or religion – including music that makes religious references.

The ceremony is conducted by a registrar and doesn’t need to take place in a religious building – however it must take place in a licensed venue. Many wedding venues are licensed to have ceremonies on site, or you can marry at a local register office or town hall.

couple on wedding day

Find out how to organise a civil ceremony here.

What Does a Civil Partnership Mean?

Prime Minister Theresa May stated: “This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married.

“As home secretary, I was proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage.

“Now, by extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life.”

There are currently 3.3 million unmarried, co-habiting couples across the UK, according to the government. These couples share financial responsibilities and nearly half of them have children, however they do not currently have the same legal protections as those who are married or in a civil partnership.

Read more: Intimate Wedding Ceremony Ideas

Couples who are in long-term, cohabiting relationships aren’t entitled to the same tax reliefs and exemptions (including inheritance tax exemption and marriage income tax allowance) that spouses and civil partners have and in the case of the death of a partner, they have no automatic right to inherit their estate and will not receive Bereavement Support Payments.

couple celebrating civil marriage

Unmarried couples also have fewer rights in the event of a relationship breakdown – which is something a civil partnership can address.

A civil partnership offers couples legal and financial protection, without the religious and patriarchal connotations of marriage.

If you’re exploring your ceremony options, make sure you read our article on alternative unity ceremony ideas.

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