Marriage or Civil Partnership – Which is Right for You?

On the 29th of March, 2014, the landscape of marriages in the UK changed forever. The legalisation of same-sex unions saw the number of civil partnerships drop tremendously; 2014 saw a 70% decrease in overall civil partnerships formed when compared with just a year prior. There’s good reason for this, as the two are not just par-in-par with different names; each has distinct rules, restrictions and laws relating to what they entail. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and one could suit your relationship where the other might not. We’ve compiled a list of everything you should know before making the decision on which is right for you and your partner.

The Legal Side
At a glance, the two appear initially similar from a legal standpoint. There’s the minor technical consideration that married couples cannot call themselves civil partners (especially during legal proceedings) and vice versa. Not likely to be a major point of contention, but something to remember when filling out forms, especially if you’ve switched from one to the other. Additionally, certain official forms require marital status, which often means civil partners can be outed, by being forced to state their sexuality.

For a marriage to be considered legally binding, it actually requires physical consummation, whereas civil partnerships are in place from the moment both parties have signed. Again, this probably won’t make many would-be knot-tiers even blink, but for the asexual it’s something to bare in mind.

The only other major legal difference regards pensions. In a civil partnership, the surviving partner does still get a share of their spouse’s pension, but it will be lower than if the pair were married. In addition, it won’t pay-out for as long as the exact same situation would with a married partner.

The Traditional Side
In terms of ceremony, same-sex weddings are conducted in the exact manner as straight ones, albeit with a few tiny wording tweaks (which are in fact at your own discretion). You are free to utilise or interpret the many centuries of tradition in any way you wish, with one of the few steadfast necessities being a wedding requires vows, alongside signing of the register. The format of these vows, however, is up to you. A civil partnership requires no vows, and in fact, no ceremony whatsoever. All that is technically needed is a signature from each of you on the civil partnership document. Of course, you can celebrate and embellish the union in any way you wish, but you simply aren’t obligated to.

Marriage ceremonies come in two flavours: religious, and civil.The only specification between the two is that if having a religious wedding, the religious body itself has to agree to solemnise the union. Civil ceremonies don’t require any such validation.

It is important to note that a civil partnership absolutely can have a ceremony, it just doesn’t have any bearing on the validity of the partnership. Therefore, this ‘extra’ ceremony can be religious if that is your preference, and if the religious body has agreed to it, much in the same manner as a marriage.

The only other slight detail is that marriage records are stored physically, and that the record of a civil partnership is stored digitally. This shouldn’t have any effect on your day-to-day life, outside of a catastrophic apocalyptic event, at which point it’s just as likely both would be destroyed regardless. But it’s a fun fact, I guess.

In Other Countries
This is where marriage is leaps and bounds ahead of civil partnerships in terms of rights, as the latter is only truly recognised in the UK. Countries where same-sex marriage is legal do not consider civil partners to fall into the married bracket, and so their gay-marriage specific laws do not apply. Therefore, married couples living in one of these countries have a larger pool of rights than civil partners would have in the same situation.

Strangely, it doesn’t work the other way around, so a foreign gay couple is not viewed as legally married in the UK, despite them legally marrying in their own country.

Ending the relationship
Putting an end to a civil partnership is a little trickier than ending a marriage. Civil partnerships are ‘dissolved’, whereas marriages are ‘divorced’. These are two distinct legal entities, with different rulings. Both require the signing of official papers, by both parties. However, there are fewer grounds for a dissolution than for a divorce. Adultery is a valid reason for the annulment of a marriage, but not for a civil partnership. In a similar vein, one member contracting a communicable venereal disease is grounds for divorce, but not dissolution.