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Read more articles in: Blog, Family, Family Law, Stuart Daniel

Marriage vs civil partnership debate – what is best for you?

Deciding whether to enter a marriage or a civil partnership can be a tricky decision to make, due to the legalities that surround both circumstances.

In England and Wales, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can either get married or enter a civil partnership so there are options for anyone who wishes to formalise their relationship legally.

There are advantages to both relationship statuses, and there are very few legal differences between the circumstances, but it is important you understand both so you can decide which is best for you and your partner.


A marriage can be conducted through a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony and applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

However, same-sex marrying couples can only take part in a religious ceremony if a religious organisation has agreed to solemnise marriages of same-sex couples.

The legal aspect of a marriage is the signing of a marriage certificate.

Same-sex couples have been able to marry since 2014, bringing with the change the same rights and duties as a lawfully married opposite-sex couple.

If you are married, you cannot call yourself a civil partner whilst your marriage must end in divorce if you wish to separate.

Civil partnerships

Same-sex couples have been able to enter a civil partnership since 2005, when the laws were changed to protect and recognise them.

Opposite-sex couples have only been able to enter this agreement since 2019, as they were restricted to marry until then.

You can, however, marry if you are already in a civil partnership.

ONS have found that the number of same-sex civil partnerships has decreased since the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2014, meaning a marriage might be deemed more legally beneficial by couples.

There are now only 1,000 per year in the UK whilst same-sex marriages

Civil partners are entitled to the same rights and duties as a married couple, regardless of sex.

Your civil partnership can only be dissolved, and you also need to make sure your partnership is recognised in the country you wish to move to if you plan to move abroad.

What are the legalities?

There are a few main similarities between a marriage and a civil partnership, which include:

  • Married and civil couples are covered by the current income and Inheritance Tax rules. Income Tax Marriage Allowance is also available to civil partners
  • If someone in a married or civil partnership dies and does not make a Will before they do or has an invalid Will, the ‘rules of intestacy’ still apply in terms of the deceased’s estate
  • Partners within a civil partnership are entitled to protection if their relationship breaks down – despite not being married, they can still make financial claims for children, housing and more
  • The Adoption and Children Act applies to both civil partners and married couples who are either opposite-sex or same-sex
  • For pensions, civil partners largely have the same pension rights as those who are married – this is dependent on whether the pension is occupational, private, or state

If marriage or a civil partnership is not for you, you might wish to continue or begin cohabiting.

However, cohabiting couples are not protected by the same rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership, even if:

  • They have been together for a long time
  • They have children
  • They jointly own property or businesses

Our services help cohabiting couples to handle these legal challenges, offering them support and guidance as they navigate their way through the complexities this agreement can bring.

No matter whether a marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation agreement is best for you, it is important to know what to choose so that you benefit as much as possible from your decision.

If you would like to know more about whether a marriage or civil partnership is right for your couple, please get in touch with our experts today.

Stuart Daniel

Head of Family Department

I qualified as a Solicitor in 2006 and now specialise in divorce, financial settlements, childcare arrangements and Pre Nuptial Agreements. I have many years’ experience as a private family lawyer having worked with two other local firms before returning to Mander Hadley, where I first undertook work experience during my university studies.