Civil partnerships are a fairly new thing. At the turn of the century, they didn’t yet exist, and it wasn’t until 2005 that the legislation came into force.

Between its introduction in 2005 to 2019, there were 74,396 registered civil partnerships in the United Kingdom. But there have been some major changes to the legislation in recent years, leading to an uptake in the number of civil partnerships.

However, there's still some confusion about what a civil partnership is and how it differs from a conventional marriage. That’s what we’ll explore in this article.

We’ll also look at who is eligible for a civil partnership and what legal rights and responsibilities come with it.

A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people who are not related to each other. Civil partnerships can be between couples of the same sex or the opposite sex and give the civil partners legal rights and responsibilities they would not have otherwise.

Also called a civil union, they work similarly to marriages but with a few key differences. For instance, the couple must sign a civil partnership document which can be done at a register office or at any location that has been approved to register civil partnerships.

What is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

There are two main differences between a marriage and a civil partnership – how they are formed and ended.

Formation of a civil partnership

Marriages are formalised by saying prescribed words to each other, known as vows. They can be conducted in a civil or religious ceremony for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

On the other hand, civil partnerships are formed by signing a civil partnership document. They are not formalised by vows and are purely civil events. This means that although civil partners can choose to add a religious ceremony, it is not considered to be a part of the civil partnership formation – the civil partnership ceremony is purely secular.

Ending of a civil partnership

A marriage is ended by obtaining a decree absolute, known as a divorce. But, civil partnerships are ended by a civil partnership dissolution order. Although they differ by name, the process for both is essentially the same.

Who is eligible for a civil partnership?

As with marriages, there are a few criteria that must be met in order to be eligible for a civil partnership. They include the following:

  • Both individuals must be above the age of 16 (parents must give written consent for individuals under the age of 18)
  • Both individuals must not be in an existing marriage or civil partnership
  • Both individuals must not be close blood relatives
  • Both individuals must have lived in the same area of the UK for at least seven days
  • Both individuals must have the capacity to, and give consent

How to register a civil partnership?

To register for a civil partnership, you must sign a civil partnership document at your local register office or a venue that has been approved for registering civil partnerships.

Unfortunately, you can’t just show up to the register office and expect to finalise the process – although that would be convenient. You must first inform the local register office of your intent to register a civil partnership at least 28 days before your registration date.

This must be done in person, as you will be required to give information on the date and location of your actual registration. You will also need to give personal details such as your name, address, and age and be able to prove this using your passport, birth certificate, or another form of identification.

Once your details have been checked, approved, and 28 days have passed from your notice date, you have 12 months to register your civil partnership.

On the registration day, you and your significant other must sign a civil partnership document – also called a civil partnership schedule – in front of the registrar and two witnesses. This is the final legal requirement in the registration process. Once this has been completed, you have officially entered a civil partnership and can now call your significant other your ‘civil partner’.

What is a pre-registration agreement?

A pre-registration agreement states your rights and obligations toward each other – particularly what happens if you both decide to end the civil partnership. It is optional and is effectively the same as a pre-nuptial agreement used in marriage.

It can include arrangements for personal possessions, finances, and custody of children. It should be noted that although a pre-registration agreement is not legally binding, it can be upheld by a court should they be required to intervene with your dissolution.

What legal rights and responsibilities are available in a civil partnership?

Finances and possessions

Suppose you and your civil partner have separate bank accounts. If your partner dies, you will be allowed to withdraw the remaining balance from your partner’s bank account. You just need to show proof of your civil partnership and your deceased partner’s death certificate.

When it comes to savings, investments, land, and property, if you had any of these in your possession before the civil partnership, they will be considered as solely yours. But, it should be noted that at the end of your relationship, these assets will be taken into account when considering settlements.


It is often thought that the debts of one partner become the debts of the other once they enter a civil partnership, but this is false. Any debt under the name of one partner does not become the responsibility of the other.

The only time one partner is responsible for the debts of the other is when the debt has been issued under both names.


In the event that your partner dies without leaving a will, you can inherit some or all of the property. However, if a will has been made, the inheritance will be determined in accordance with the will. If the deceased partner has left the property in your name, you will not have to pay inheritance tax on it.

When it comes to children’s inheritance and civil partnerships, a child can inherit assets from their birth parents or adopted parents – and their parents' extended families – if there's no will. However, a child cannot inherit from both. Therefore, if they are adopted, they will no longer be able to inherit from their birth parents. If there is a will, the child will inherit in accordance with the will.

Ending a civil partnership

The ending of a civil partnership can work like divorces for marriages in that you can apply for a dissolution order. If you don’t want to apply for a dissolution, you can get a legal separation from your partner.

If you haven’t been in your civil partnership for longer than a year, you will be unable to apply for dissolution. This is when legal separation becomes an option, as it allows you to legally separate from your partner until the one-year period has passed.

Adopting a child

Civil partners who live together can jointly adopt a child. This process is incredibly straightforward if the child in question is one of the partners and has been living with them for over six months.

If the child in question does not satisfy those criteria, then the process will take a little longer to complete and will likely require the services of an agency.

If you want to adopt a child from another country, you must satisfy the requirements of the country you want to adopt from. A specialist in overseas adoption will be able to help with this.

Children at the end of a civil partnership

At the end of a civil partnership, parental responsibility for the children must be determined. You have parental responsibility if you are responsible in some way for the child’s welfare, education, and health.

In an opposite-sex civil partnership, you will automatically have parental responsibility if you are the child’s mother or father – whether that’s biologically or adopted. If you are not the child’s mother or father, you’re considered a step-parent, which means you have no parental responsibility over the child.

In a same-sex civil partnership, you may already have parental responsibility depending on your circumstances at the time of treatment.

Financial support

Even if your civil partnership has ended, you will still have a legal responsibility to support your partner financially. You will also be responsible for financially supporting a child if you are the biological or adopted father.


Civil partners that live together in a rented property have equal rights to stay in that home, regardless of the name on the rental contract. Therefore, if your partner asks you to leave, you can choose to stay. The only time you have to leave is if you have been ordered to do so by a court.

If your partner passes away and your name is not on the rental contract, as their civil partner, you may have the right to stay in that home.

If you or your partner owns a home, both partners have equal rights to stay in the home, regardless of who bought it and whose name it is under. This is known as having ‘home rights’.

Medical consent

In a civil partnership, you do not have the right to consent to any form of medical treatment on behalf of your partner. The only caveat with this is if your partner is in a state of unconsciousness and cannot make a decision for themselves.


As a civil partner, you can sometimes claim State Pension based on your partner’s National Insurance contributions. Also, when it comes to all workplace pension schemes and some private pension schemes, you will also receive the same benefits in a civil partnership as you would in a marriage.

Civil partnerships were first introduced on 5 December 2005 under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. This legislation's passing was the first time same-sex couples could obtain legal acceptance and rights for their relationship. They now had responsibilities and rights akin to those in a marriage.

A civil partnership was the only way for same-sex couples to gain legal recognition for their relationship until 13 March 2014, at which point the UK government passed legislation for same-sex couples to enter a same-sex marriage.

For a long time, the civil partnership law was only applicable to same-sex civil partnerships. This means that whilst same-sex couples had the option to enter a civil partnership or a marriage, opposite-sex couples only had one option, marriage. It wasn’t until 2 December 2019 that opposite-sex couples were able to form a civil partnership as well.

No, they are two separate things. A common law spouse is defined as a couple who live together but have not entered into a marriage or civil partnership.

Whilst entering a civil partnership gives both civil partners certain legal rights and responsibilities, as mentioned above, being a common law spouse with your significant other will provide you with no such thing.

Therefore, broadly speaking, individuals must be in a civil partnership or marriage with their significant other to receive protection in the eyes of the law.

A civil partnership is legal recognition of a relationship between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Initially, they were exclusively reserved for same-sex couples but have since included opposite-sex couples since 2019.

Civil partnerships provide almost identical benefits to those given to partners in a marriage, with civil partners receiving legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to finances and possessions, inheritance, adopting children, housing, and more.