23rd March 2020

A guide to civil partnerships

A civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex or opposite sex – known as civil partners. Once registered, your civil partnership will mean that your relationship is legally recognised and will provide you with certain legal rights and responsibilities.

Who can enter into a civil partnership?

You can form a civil partnership in England or Wales if you are:

  • 16 years old or over*
  • not closely related
  • not already in a civil partnership or married

*Parental consent is required if you are under the age of 18 years old.

Planning your ceremony

The first thing to do is plan where you would like to have your civil partnership ceremony, as you are required to include details of the venue when giving notice.

A civil ceremony can take place at a register office or any venue that has been approved by the council such as a stately home, manor house, barn or hotel.

At least 29 days’ notice must be given before you form a civil partnership.

Giving notice

Each party to the partnership must give notice to their relevant registration authority of their intention to form a partnership. This involves signing a legal statement at your local register office. You need to have resided in the relevant registration authority for at least 7 days immediately prior to giving notice.

If you and your partner live in different registration districts, then you each need to give notice to the relevant registration district. This does not need to be done on the same day.

There is a fee to give notice of £35 per person and you would usually need to book an appointment at your local register office.

You will need to bring with you the following documentation when giving notice:

  1. Details of the ceremony venue
  2. Your passport
  3. Proof of your home address such as a driving licence, recent bank statement or utility bill
  4. Proof of name change (if applicable), for example, a deed poll

If you have been in a marriage or civil partnership before, then you need to take either your decree absolute, final order (the legal document that ends your civil partnership) or your former partner’s death certificate with you.

Pre-registration agreement

You may wish to consider drawing up a pre-registration agreement before registering your civil partnership. This sets out your obligations towards each other and provides for what would happen in the event that your relationship were to break down. It is exactly the same as a ‘pre-nuptial agreement’ in a marriage.

It can cover things such as the family home, pensions, child arrangements, personal possessions, cars and furniture. Please be aware that such agreements are not legally binding or enforceable, but they are evidence of your intentions and agreement. If properly executed and legal advice is sought, then a pre-registration agreement could influence the courts in deciding what should happen if your civil partnership were to break down. Unromantic perhaps, but it can save a great deal of upset and cost.

The ceremony and registration

Your ceremony must take place within 12 months of giving notice.

Your ceremony must be carried out by a registrar, or one must be present at the ceremony. The cost of a registrar is £46 at a register office and may be different at other approved premises. You are required to have at least two witnesses to the ceremony.

You and your partner have legally registered your civil partnership when you have signed the legal document, known as the civil partnership schedule. This must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and the registrar.

There is no requirement to exchange vows for a civil partnership, but you can if you would like to. Ceremonies must not include anything religious (e.g. hymns or readings from the bible) but can include other readings and songs if you wish.

After you register your civil partnership you can obtain a copy of your civil partnership certificate for £11.

Changing your details

It is important that following a civil partnership you update your details with the bank, HMRC and other organisations as it can affect your tax, benefits and pension.

Upon entering a civil partnership, you are not legally required to take your partner’s surname. You may wish to change your name and one of you take the other’s surname. Some organisations (including the passport office and DVLA) will just need you to send a copy of your civil partnership certificate so that your records can be updated. For others, you may require a deed poll which is a legal document which proves change of name. Do check the specific requirements of each organisation.

Implications of civil partnership

A civil partnership can have many implications for inheritance, tax, pensions and next of kin.

If you are a civil partner, you will always have authority to act as next of kin for your partner. However, you cannot consent to medical treatment for your civil partner, save for when consent cannot be obtained from them due to unconsciousness or mental incapacity.

On finances, you may wish to speak to an independent financial adviser and/or an accountant and seek financial advice about the financial implications of a civil partnership, as it is complex. However, there are a number of potential advantages:

  • Any transfers of property between civil partners in their lifetime or on death will not normally be subject to inheritance tax.
  • Any transfers of property between civil partners in their lifetime has a ‘Nil’ effect for capital gains tax. Please note civil partners can only nominate one main residence for private tax redemption if sold.
  • A limited proportion of unused personal tax allowance can be transferred from one civil partner to another, if one has a higher income, resulting in less income tax being payable overall.
  • If you or your civil partner were to die without a Will, the other will inherit some or possibly all of your property under the rules of intestacy. If you or your civil partner dies and has made a Will, you may inherit depending on the terms of the Will. Existing Wills may need to be changed to be effective after the civil partnership has been entered into. It is important that you speak to a specialist legal adviser. You may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your civil partner’s national insurance contributions.


Entering a civil partnership does not automatically give you any rights in regard to your partner’s child, but you can obtain parental rights (called ‘parental responsibility’) by agreement or court order.

It is possible for two civil partners to jointly adopt a child. You may also be able to legally adopt your partner’s child, as long as you have lived with the child for at least six months.

If a civil partnership breaks down, the court can decide any dispute in relation to children.

Ending a civil partnership

A civil partnership can be ended upon death, dissolution or annulment.

An application to legally bring the civil partnership to an end (dissolve it) can be made to the court after a period of one year or more from the date of the civil partnership, exactly the same as for marriage.

There is only one ground for dissolution of a civil partnership in the jurisdiction of England and Wales and that is that your civil partnership has ‘irretrievably broken down’. This breakdown must be evidenced in one of four ways, known as ‘facts’ or reasons. These are:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years separation with consent
  • 5 years separation with or without consent

These are based on old divorce law, and sound terrible, but in practice the reason is usually agreed. Nobody can be forced to remain in a civil partnership if they do not want to. It is best to seek legal advice as early as possible.

The dissolution happens in two stages. The first stage is a conditional order which confirms that the court does not see any reason why you cannot end your civil partnership. The second is a final order which is the legal document formally ending your civil partnership. You can only apply for a final order 6 weeks after a conditional order. If your civil partner applied for a conditional order, then you have to wait 3 months and 6 weeks after the date of the conditional order. It is important that you apply for a final order within 12 months of the conditional order being made.

Financial matters on dissolution

Exactly the same as with marriage and divorce, the court can decide finances upon dissolution. However, this can also be dealt with by agreement. If you want the court to make a legal binding agreement or order regarding how you are going to divide your money, property and any other assets, then you must apply to the court before you apply for a final order of dissolution.

When deciding any financial matters, the court must have regard to all circumstances of the case, giving first consideration to the welfare of any child of the family who is under 18 years old.

The factors that the court will look at when assessing what would be a fair financial settlement are set out in schedule 5, part 5, section 21 of the Civil Partnership Act 2014, which are listed below for completeness:

(a) the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each civil partner has, or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;

(b) the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each civil partner has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;

(c) the standard of living enjoyed by the civil partners before the occurrence of the conduct which is alleged as the ground of the application;

(d) the age of each civil partner and the duration of the civil partnership;

(e) any physical or mental disability of either civil partner;

(f) the contributions which each civil partner has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family; and

(g) the conduct of each civil partner, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it.

It is important that you seek legal advice in relation to financial matters, and the earlier you do so the better. You may also wish to see an independent financial adviser regarding any proposed settlement.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published