Love and Marriage…and Civil Partnerships

Opposite sex civil partnerships: SA Law Family Solicitor Bindu Malkan explains the differences between marriage and civil partnership in the age of freedom and choice.

With ever changing family dynamics, at the end of last year (2 December 2019), the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019, came into force. This provides opposite-sex couples with the ability to form a civil partnership and enjoy similar rights as a married couple. With the 28-day notice period, this change enabled many couples to enjoy ceremonies as early as 31 December 2019.

Previously, the recognition for opposite-sex couples of their relationship and the ability to have rights, was to marry. Only same-sex couples could form civil partnerships, following the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (in force on 5 December 2005). Same-sex couples also have the ability to marry under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Why the change?

Over the years, the various changes in legislation have happened following campaigns, proposals and consultations. However, the most recent change was instigated after a Supreme Court ruling in June 2018. The couple in question fought for the right to be registered as civil partners rather than spouses, on the basis that the ideology behind marriage was less favourable to women, they wanted to be seen as equals and therefore, considered that a civil partnership would allow this, whereas marriage would not. They argued that the current law was discriminatory and in breach of human rights. The court agreed but change had to come from Parliament, hence the 2019 Regulations.

What are the differences between a marriage and a civil partnership?

There are a number of similarities and differences between entering a marriage or civil partnership whether that is for same sex or opposite sex couples. The Government Equalities Office published a table on 10 December 2019, setting these out. Some of the differences are:

  • With marriages, one has to say prescribed words for the purposes of formation
  • Marriage ceremonies can be civil or religious whereas civil partnerships are only civil ceremonies
  • Marriages are registered on paper but civil partnerships, are on an electronic register
  • Marriage certificates include the name of the father (or stepfather) whereas civil partnership certificates include both parents (or stepparents)
  • Non-consummation, in order to annul the marriage, is not available for same-sex marriages nor either type of civil partnership
  • Adultery is not available under civil partnerships, as for adultery to be cited, it must be with the person of the opposite sex

Where are we now with marriage rates?

According to the ONS, in 2016, there were 249,793 marriages in England and Wales, which was an increase on the year before and 2.8% of these were between same-sex couples (97.2% opposite-sex couples). However, generally, the number of marriages remains at low levels with less people choosing to marry. Now with the change in law, it is likely that the number of civil partnerships will increase (there were 956 civil partnerships in 2018). Updated figures from the ONS are expected this month on marriage rates and later in the year on civil partnerships and therefore, it will be interesting to see what the rates will be then.

Today’s world is all about freedom and choice. Having the ability to live life as one wants and not be bound or discriminated against. To further the choice, same-sex couples that have already registered a civil partnership can convert this, into a marriage. Opposite-sex couples, however, cannot convert their civil partnership into marriage yet but this change might be forthcoming in due course, to avoid any discrimination.

Only cohabitation and not ‘common law’ marriage

Aside from civil partnerships and marriages, there are those that remain as cohabitees. However, these people have less rights available to them than spouses or civil partners. The myth of ‘common law’ marriage remains and as of yet, no changes are on the horizon to give more rights to couples that whilst living together, have not signed that piece of paper (or registered) to confirm that they are married or in a civil partnership.

Importance of legal advice

When in a relationship, one does not consider the rights and implications of being with their partner nor what would happen if things turned-out adversely; this would detract from the ‘fluffy’ nature of the relationship. However, after investing time and of course, money, people are astute of the fact that should the inevitable happen, they want themselves and their resources, to be protected.

The law surrounding marriage/divorce, civil partnerships/dissolution and cohabitation/separation is complex. Not only does one have to consider the relationship, it’s status and also what happens in the event of the breakdown of the relationship, one also has to consider what becomes of the couple’s finances and of course, any children. It is therefore always recommended that advice is sought at an early stage to understand the implications of embarking upon any personal relationship. Whilst it may not seem as ‘romantic’, it might avoid a great deal inconvenience, cost and delay.


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or a Family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Bindu Malkan on 020 7183 5683.

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