Civil partnerships

An important alternative to marriage, a civil partnership is almost identical, but there are one or two key differences.

Available to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, the process of entering into a civil partnership is very similar to a civil marriage. To register a civil partnership, you and your partner must sign a civil partnership document in front of two witnesses and a registrar. And, in the event of the partnership breaking down, the divorce equivalent – called a civil partnership dissolution – is identical to the no-fault divorce process. The same considerations about the arrangements for any children and a financial settlement need to be addressed.

However, there are some differences – particularly for international families – where specialist legal advice is essential.

Our lawyers

Our civil partnership lawyers can help you whether you’re entering into a civil partnership or looking to dissolve one. What our lawyers are particularly known for is our ability to deal with complex financial or child law issues – from pre-partnership agreements to using a surrogate to have a child. We provide advice on:

  • Pre- or post-civil partnership agreements
  • Wealth protection
  • Fertility, surrogacy and legal parentage issues
  • Civil partnership dissolution
  • Financial consequences of the partnership breaking down
  • Arrangements for children
  • The process of converting a civil partnership into a marriage (only available for same-sex couples at the moment)
  • The recognition of your civil partnership in other countries (and if you have had a civil partnership in another country, whether your civil partnership is recognised here)
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What do you need to know?

Civil partnerships have been around since 2005. Initially, they provided legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples. The law was changed in 2013 and, since then, same-sex couples have been able to have a civil partnership or a marriage (as well as convert a same-sex civil partnership into a same-sex marriage). Following a high profile campaign, the law had a further change in December 2019 when it was decided that opposite-sex couples should also have the option of entering into a civil partnership.

In many ways, civil partners and married couples are treated identically, but there are some areas where you do have to watch out for differences.

  • Adoption – although civil partners can jointly adopt a child from the UK, it is not always so straightforward if you are adopting a child from abroad. Some countries do not allow same-sex couples to adopt, even if they are in a civil partnership. If you are in this position, expert legal advice is essential.
  • Recognition of your English civil partnership in other countries – some countries simply do not recognise the concept of civil partnerships or, if they do, they are not equivalent to an English civil partnership when it comes to rights or responsibilities. This is an important consideration for families who are thinking of moving to another country, but it can also impact on travel, emergencies abroad and if your partner is not from the UK. To understand the implications, speak to a specialist civil partnership lawyer.
  • Pensions – pensions and civil partnerships have had a bumpy ride. However, it is now against the law for an occupational pension scheme, and for some private pension schemes, not to offer the same benefits to a civil partner as a married spouse. This includes death in service benefits as well as pension sharing orders on civil partnership dissolution.
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Frequently Asked Questions

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