The difference between marriage and civil partnership explained
A marriage is a formalised partnership between two individuals which is initiated by a ceremony conforming to specific, often religious, requirements and involving spoken vows. A marriage can be ended through the process of divorce via a Conditional Order and Final Order.
While a civil partnership is also a formalised partnership between two individuals, it is initiated by the signing of the civil register as opposed to spoken vows and does not require a ceremony. A civil partnership can be ended by dissolving the partnership using a Dissolution Order.
Those who have entered into a marriage cannot call themselves civil partners for legal purposes, and those who have entered into a civil partnership cannot call themselves married for legal purposes.
How has the law has changed in recent years?
The essential requirements of a valid marriage can be found in the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The combination of these two pieces of legislation forms the foundation of the benchmark necessary for a marriage to be considered valid in England and Wales.
The introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 provided same-sex couples with an alternative option to marriage, the previous legislation prevented same-sex couples entering a legally recognised marriage.
The Marriage (Same Sex-Couples) Act 2013 legalised the marriage of same-sex couples, going them the option of entering a legally valid marriage or a civil partnership. However, this meant that opposite-sex couples only had the option of entering into a marriage as they could not enter into a civil partnership in the way that same-sex couples could.
This changed with the introduction of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-Sex Couples) Act 2019 which gave opposite-sex couples the ability to access a civil partnership as well as a marriage. This change to the law meant opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples both had the ability to make a choice between marriage and civil partnership.
Which is the best option?
Entering into either a marriage or civil partnership will provide a couple with legal entitlements over and responsibilities to each other. Many factors may influence an individual’s choice including personal preference and religious persuasion, but in terms of legal rights and responsibilities there is no difference between the two options.