Planning and ending a civil partnership

From the paperwork to the big day, here's our guide to registering, and ending, a civil partnership.

What are civil partnerships?

A civil partnership is a legal relationship for same-sex and opposite sex couples in the UK. It grants couples comparable rights to those who are married. Bear in mind that civil partnerships are similar to, but not the same as marriage. There are a small number of differences between the two:

A civil partnership is registered when the second civil partner signs the relevant document, while a civil marriage is registered when the couple exchange spoken words;

Marriage ceremonies can be either religious or civil, whereas a civil partnership can only be created by a civil ceremony.

Since 2014 (and 2020 in Northern Ireland) same sex couples in the UK are also able to marry instead of getting a civil partnership. Same sex couples who previously had a civil partnership are able to convert into a marriage, but you can’t have both at once.

Civil partnership law

Civil partners can enjoy equal treatment with married couples in a wide range of legal matters, including:

  • Tax, including inheritance tax;
  • Employment benefits;
  • Most state and occupational pension benefits;
  • Income-related benefits, tax credits and child support;
  • Duty to provide reasonable maintenance for your civil partner and any children of the family;
  • Ability to apply for parental responsibility for your civil partner’s child;
  • Inheritance of a tenancy agreement;
  • Recognition under intestacy rules;
  • Access to fatal accidents compensation;
  • Protection from domestic violence;
  • Recognition for immigration and nationality purposes.

The minimum legal age for registering a civil partnership is 16, but written consent may be required for anyone under 18.

Ending a civil partnership

A civil partnership will come to an end if you or your civil partner dies. However, if you want to end your civil partnership before then, you need to get permission from a court. You can do this by asking the court to grant one of the following:

  • A dissolution order
    Civil partner dissolutions require that you prove to the court that the civil partnership has broken down irretrievably, e.g. unreasonable behaviour, or your partner has deserted you at least two years ago. Your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year before you can apply for a dissolution order.
  • A separation order
    You can apply for a separation order at any time. However, neither of you will be able to enter another civil partnership or marriage unless you obtain a dissolution order to dissolve your civil partnership.
  • An annulment
    If your civil partnership does not meet certain legal conditions of a civil partnership, the court can end the partnership by granting an annulment.

Other things to bear in mind:

  • If you’re not a British citizen, ending a civil partnership may affect your right to stay in the UK;
  • If you have children, you will have to sort out arrangements for the children when you end a civil partnership;
  • You may need to sort out financial arrangements, such as mortgage payments and household bills;
  • You might need to sort out housing issues, such as protecting your right to stay in your property should you wish to do so.

Thanks to Citizens Advice Bureau for help with this article.

Check out the rest of The Mix’s relationship advice here, or chat about civil partnerships on our Discussion Boards.

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By Matt Whyman

Updated on 27-Jan-2023