What are the differences between Civil Partnership and Marriage?
Initially in 2005 Civil Partnerships were introduced as a way to provide legal recognition and protection for same sex couples. On 29th March 2014, same sex marriages became legal and many civil partners chose to convert their civil partnership to a marriage. This then gave same-sex couples the option to enter into either civil partnership or marriage, and as of the 31st December 2019 this option was extended to opposite sex couples.
When civil partnerships were introduced many saw them as the next best thing to marriage for same sex couples who at the time were not legally allowed to marry; it provided legal rights and protection in relation to inheritance and tax entitlement and legally recognised the parties as each other's legal next of kin.
Marriage and civil partnerships are not the same thing however and these differences begin from when the unions are formed.
Civil partnerships are entirely civil by way of formation and are registered by signing the civil partnership document in front of a registrar and two witnesses and no words are required to be spoken. The parties can choose to hold a ceremony after the formation has taken place and this can be civil or religious in nature (if the civil partnership takes place on religious premises). It is at this stage that the parties may give their ‘vows’ to each other but these are not required for the actual formation of the civil partnership.
With both marriage and civil partnership a certificate will be issued to prove the union. The full names and ages of the parties and date and place of the union will be included on the certificate, however whilst on the marriage certificate only the parties’ fathers or step-fathers’ name appears, on a civil partnership certificate the parties’ mothers’ or step-mother’s name appears also.
Unlike marriage, when a party changing their surname to that of the spouse can do so and the marriage certificate will be sufficient proof, if one civil partner wishes to change their surname to that of the other, or if they choose to have a double-barrelled surname to include both, a change of name deed will have to be entered into.
There are more similarities between a civil partnership and a marriage than there are differences. Married couples and couples in civil partnerships share the same rights when it comes to property, pensions and their ability to obtain parental responsibility over their spouse/partner's child. In addition both married couples and those in civil partnerships are recognised as being each other's next of kin and are exempt from inheritance tax.
Should there be a breakdown in the relationship and the parties wish to terminate the union then the process is the same for both; however the terminology used is different. In relation to marriage one party will apply for a divorce whereas in civil partnership it will be an application for a dissolution. There is a first decree of divorce known as decree nisi but a conditional order in dissolution of civil partnership, and similarly decree absolute and final order of dissolution.
A divorce petition can be brought using any one of the five facts set out in Section 1(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, namely adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years' separation with consent or five years' separation but adultery cannot be used when applying for a dissolution of a civil partnership.
There is no difference when it comes to financial orders and civil partners can apply for property adjustment orders, lump sum orders, orders in relation to pensions and maintenance orders should the union break down.
Similarly, as couples who are planning to be married can try to protect their pre-marital financial positions by way of a pre-nuptial agreement, couples planning to enter into a civil partnership can enter into a pre-registration agreement. There is also the option of a post-nuptial agreement or post-registration agreement.
Finally, only same-sex couples can convert the civil partnership into a marriage. Opposite sex couples are unable to do so. There is no provision to convert a marriage into a civil partnership.