What’s the Difference Between a Civil Partnership and Marriage?


There’s been a lot of talk lately on the topic of what’s preferable, marriage or civil partnership. With wedding ceremonies being allowed in the UK once again, we decided to make a comparison of civil partnership vs marriage and outline all the little differences that set them apart. Stay tuned to find out how civil partnerships are different from marriages!

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What Is a Civil Partnership?

Before we dive into the differences between the two legal relationships, we thought it best to define the concept of ‘civil partnership’ — we all know what the concept of marriage entails, more or less.

A civil partnership is a legal relationship which is registered between two people, as long as they’re not related to each other. Civil partnerships were introduced with the Civil Partnership Act of 2004; in 2005, they became available to same-sex couples who were not yet allowed to marry, giving them similar rights and benefits as those enjoyed by married people.

For years, understanding what is a civil partnership for UK residents meant understanding the legal union between a same-sex couple; this changed in 2019 when civil partnerships became available to opposite-sex couples, so now anyone can choose whether to enter a marriage or a civil partnership.

DID YOU KNOW? Same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK with the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act of 2013, allowing same-sex couples to be married in a religious ceremony if they wish to do so. The first same-sex marriage in the UK was established in March 2014.

Civil Partnership vs Marriage: What’s the Difference?

Although marriages and civil partnerships are similar in many respects, there are a few differences you need to be aware of before you choose one or the other. Below, you’ll find listed all the things that make a marriage different from a civil partnership.


Marriages are formed by vows, and often, a religious ceremony is performed before signing a marriage certificate. Civil partnerships, on the other hand, are formed simply by signing a civil partnership certificate. This is considered the most notable difference between marriage and civil partnership, although the two unions are fundamentally the same.

Ending the Union

Another notable difference is evident when it comes to ending the legal relationship; marriages are ended by divorce, while civil partnerships are ended by dissolution. In legal terms, getting a divorce and getting a dissolution are very similar; applicants must submit the same petition and the same documents to the court to finalise the process. Both married people and civil partners need to wait at least one year after the formation of the union to apply for a divorce/dissolution.


Possibly the most intricate difference between civil partnership and marriage lies in the fact that adultery can be listed as grounds for divorce, but it’s not considered a valid ground for dissolution. All other grounds for divorce can be stated when seeking a dissolution, but not adultery.

Legal Differences

For legal purposes, civil partners can’t call themselves ‘married’; all official documents must state that they’re in a civil partnership. Additionally, the civil partnership certificate contains the names of both parents, while a marriage certificate still contains the father’s name only.

And if you’re looking for another way to differentiate between marriage and civil partnership, know that for a marriage to be formed there has to be an exchange of spoken words, while forming a civil partnership requires only a signed document.


The adoption process is more or less the same for married people and for civil partners; there is, however, one important distinction — the adoption process might take longer if the civil partnership is between people of the same sex. This is especially true if the couple is trying to adopt from overseas; some countries may be reluctant to award a child to a same-sex couple, making the process significantly longer and more difficult.


When comparing civil partnership vs marriage in the UK, the question of custody arises. There are no significant differences in terms of custody; if the parents are married or in a civil partnership, they will both be given parental responsibility for the children, unless one is deemed an ‘unfit parent’. However, if the parents aren’t married or in a civil partnership, just living together, custody will be awarded to the mother until the father applies for privileges.


Finances are an important and sensitive topic, so you want to know what kind of financial situation you’re getting into when you’re forming a civil partnership. First things first — debts; what is a civil partnership and what does it mean in terms of debt? Well, you need to know that you’re not responsible for any of your civil partner’s debts accumulated before the formation of the partnership, but you are responsible for paying all joint debts. If you’re also living together, you’re responsible for some other debts in their name, for example, council tax.

Joint bank accounts are shared, of course, but if you have separate accounts and one partner dies, the other may be allowed to access the account — this is slightly easier for married people.


At this point, you may also be wondering what is the difference between marriage and civil partnership in terms of inheritance. Well, there’s not much of a difference; a civil partner inherits some or all of the property in their partner’s name unless a will states otherwise. Civil partners are exempt from paying inheritance tax, just like married people. However, inheritance is a tricky topic and each situation is different, so it’s better to resolve these matters before one person dies.

DID YOU KNOW? Approximately three-quarters (73%) of same-sex civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2020 were between people who have never been married or in a civil partnership before. The same is true for a little more than half (52%) of opposite-sex couples.

Key Takeaways

Civil partnerships are legal relationships between two people who are not related to each other.
The formation of a civil partnership doesn’t require vows or spoken words; a marriage formation does.
Civil partnerships end in dissolution, marriages end in divorce.
Civil partners can’t refer to themselves as ‘married for legal purposes.

Converting a Civil Partnership into Marriage

Now that you know the difference between civil partnership and civil marriage in the UK, you may want to know if it’s possible to turn a civil partnership into a marriage and if it is, how do you do it?

It’s possible to convert your civil partnership into marriage if you live in England, Wales, or Scotland, while Northern Ireland doesn’t allow the conversion of civil partnerships into marriages. In England and in Wales, you can convert your partnership at a local registration office, a register office, or a religious institution. The process works in a similar way in Scotland, although different paperwork is required.

Why Convert to Marriage?

Knowing what is the difference between civil partnership and marriage is important and you can see why some people would choose one over the other, but at this point, you may be wondering why would someone want to convert a civil partnership into/ an official marriage? Well, it may be just a matter of personal preference, but since the majority of civil partnerships are formed among same-sex couples, many people felt that stating they’re in a civil partnership is a form of ‘forced outing’. Being legally married prevents people from making any assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation.

DID YOU KNOW? The available facts on marriage reveal that same-sex couples prefer marriage over a civil partnership, especially women. 56% of same-sex marriages were formed between women, while 44% were marriages between men.

Marriage vs Civil Partnership: Which One Is Right for You?

Once you’re aware of all the differences that can be seen between a civil partnership and a marriage, you may still wonder which one is right for you. The first thing to remember is that there’s no ‘right choice’; both of these options are equally valid and legal. However, if you need some help deciding whether to get married, we compiled a list of things to consider:

Get married if:

  • You want to say the vows at your wedding
  • You want a religious ceremony
  • You wish to protect yourself if you’re ever cheated on
  • You plan to adopt
  • You prefer to label yourself as ‘married’

If none of the things listed above are important to you, a civil partnership may be just the right fit for you. We know that choosing between marriage vs civil partnership in the UK can be confusing so we hope that we’ve managed to make your choice a little easier!

DID YOU KNOW? The statistics on divorce in the UK show that 42% of all marriages eventually end in divorce. Although a civil partnership can end, too, if you want to avoid the ‘divorced’ label, then opting for a civil partnership is a wise decision.


Marriages and civil partnerships are legal relationships that come with almost identical rights and benefits for the two parties involved. However, knowing what’s the difference between marriage and civil partnership is a good idea if you’re contemplating making your relationship official. Hopefully, this article has been of help and now you can tell the difference between the two!


Why is civil partnership better than marriage?

Some people might consider a civil partnership better than marriage because it doesn’t require a religious ceremony or any words to be spoken when forming the union.

Are civil partners husband and wife?

Couples in civil partnerships don’t refer to themselves as ‘husband and wife’; they are ‘civil partners’ or just ‘partners’ for everyday use. An evident difference between marriage and civil partnership in the UK is the fact people can’t legally say they’re married if they’re civil partners.

What are the benefits of a civil partnership?

A civil partnership comes with all the benefits of marriage, such as marriage allowance, as well as inheriting property without paying capital gains or inheritance tax.

Do you change surname with civil partnership?

When entering a civil partnership, you’re not obliged to change your surname, although you are free to change the surname or add your partner’s name next to yours. Or, you can double-barrel both surnames and change both your surnames to the new hybrid surname.

Do you become Mrs in a civil partnership?

Looking into civil partnership vs marriage, you can see that a civil partnership doesn’t require you to change your title upon entering the union. However, many women choose to change their titles from ‘Miss’ to either ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’.

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