Civil Partnership and Same Sex Marriage – Are they the same thing?

Civil Partnership and Same Sex Marriage – are they the same thing? 

Our Amy Trevellick in our Daventry office answers this question.

The short answer is, no. Although Civil Partnerships and Same Sex Marriage share many of the same features, and convey almost exactly the same legal rights, they are fundamentally different in nature and process. For one thing, if you are in a Civil Partnership, you cannot formally say you are “married”. So why are there 2 different processes?

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to provide a legal framework around same sex relationships and to provide couples with the benefits and legal protection that heterosexual couples enjoyed upon marriage. This includes for example, tax benefits, inheritance and pension rights and the ability to be recognised as your partner’s next of kin. Although this went some way to bridging the gap between opposite sex couples and same sex couples, there was still a fundamental distinction between “civil partnership” and “marriage”, and so the campaign for equality continued to call for same sex marriage to be legally recognised as well.

In 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was introduced in England and Wales and the first same sex marriages took place on 29th March 2014.

Anecdotally, in June 2018 it was ruled that allowing only same sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership was discriminatory in itself, and so, from 31st December 2019 opposite sex couples have been able to enter into a Civil Partnership if they choose to elect that over marriage.

The legal process for ending a same sex marriage is the same as ending an opposite sex marriage - i.e. by making an application to the family court for a divorce. There is only one ground upon which you can apply and that is the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. However, you must “prove” the breakdown of the marriage by one of 5 facts;

  1. Adultery (sexual intercourse between a man and a woman) – the person applying for a divorce must find it intolerable to live with the other party as a result of the adultery;
  2. Unreasonable behaviour – the person applying for a divorce must find it intolerable to live with the other party as a result of their behaviour;
  3. Desertion – the other party has deserted their spouse and cannot be located;
  4. Separation for a period of at least 2 years and both parties’ consent to the divorce;
  5. Separation for a period of at least 5 years.

That said, Parliament has very recently announced the introduction of “no fault” divorce in April 2022, which will allow couples to divorce without having to prove any of the above facts.

Once a divorce petition is filed, regardless of the reasons given, either party can apply for a financial order to decide how their assets should be divided.

Ending a Civil Partnership:

The legal process for ending a Civil Partnership is very similar to that of a divorce. The same court form (a D8) is used, and this is sent to the family court in the same way as a divorce petition. The same court fee is also payable, currently £550. However, the end of a Civil Partnership is known as a dissolution rather than a divorce. In the case of a Civil Partnership,  adultery cannot be given as the reason for the breakdown of the relationship, although the other 4 facts remain the same. The reason for this was originally because the legal definition of adultery requires sexual intercourse between a man and woman, and therefore, same sex ‘affairs’ do not meet the definition. However, since the introduction of civil partnerships for opposite sex couples, and the development of the law around transgender and gender neutral individuals, it is unclear whether this distinction will be removed. In most cases, even if there has been infidelity, this can be cited as “unreasonable behaviour” in any event.

If you are thinking about separating from your partner, whether you are married, civil partnered or neither, we can provide expert legal advice from the outset. Contact us now on

Daventry office -  amytrevellick@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Rugby office - amandaweaver@newleafsolicitors.co.uk  or francinebristo@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Southampton office - kellybruton@newleafsolicitors.co.uk

Birmingham office - paulineorourke@newleafsolicitors.co.uk