Civil Partnership or Marriage: What's The Difference?


This week, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan are taking their challenge against the ban on opposite sex couples entering into civil partnerships one step further. Their case has now reached the High Court, and is brought on the grounds that the refusal amounts to discrimination and a breach of their right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Rebecca and Charles have a child together and now wish to cement their relationship, but they also don't want to enter into marriage, which they believe is a "patriarchal" institution opposed to their feminist views.

Emma Hopkins Jones, Associate Family Law Solicitor based in Leeds, looks at the main differences, and why marriage is no longer an option for many couples.

How is Marriage Different to a Civil Partnership?

Civil Partnership was first introduced in the UK with the 2004 Civil Partnership Act to give same-sex couples the right to enter a legal union offering similar rights. A few of the key differences between marriage and civil partnerships are as follows:

  • Adultery is not recognised as a ground for dissolving a civil partnership,
  • Unlike with marriage, to enter a civil partnership you don't need to exchange vows/some formal wording,
  • Marriage certificates only include father's names, unlike civil partnership certificates which include both parents.

Why Do Couples Want to Eschew Marriage?

For Rebecca and Charles, it's the connotations and history associated with marriage that makes it unappealing. Marriage is seen by some as a union rooted in patriarchy, which does not seem unreasonable when it is remembered that marital rape was only banned in the UK in 1991. Civil partnership is becoming more appealing alternative to couples as it can be seen as devoid of negative cultural associations.

The Women's Equality Party (WE), a political party championing equal treatment of women are supporting the call for equal civil partnerships. Party leader Sohpie Walker explains why:

"The WE understand that many women are uncomfortable with the institution of marriage, and its old-fashioned connotations, but wish to have their relationships - and their rights – recognised in law. It's time that all couples are given the choice."

Emma, a proud Women's Equality Party member, comments:

"All couples should be able to access the same rights and it's time for the law to adapt so that it can meet the needs of modern couples. For many people, marriage and the history associated with it just isn't right for them, which means increasing numbers of people are choosing to cohabit. If they don't have other protections in place, such as a cohabitation agreement, they can find themselves in a very vulnerable situation if the relationship breaks down."

"A change in the law would create greater equality and protection for many couples. If this case isn't successful, we would certainly need to see greater protections in the form of a cohabitation law akin to that in Scotland. Alternatively, couples should consider making a cohabitation agreement."

How Can Simpson Millar Help You?

Simpson Millar's Family Law team are experts in advising on your legal rights, whether you are cohabiting, in a civil partnership, or a marriage. We can help you put in place safeguards for your future by providing advice on cohabitation agreements or pre-nuptial agreements. We can be on hand to help should you experience family disputes or relationship breakdown.

Family disputes can be incredibly distressing and emotive; having clear and straightforward advice on your legal rights and how to move forward can make all the difference.

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