Civil partnerships are now open to all

Fri 6th Dec 2019

Sarah Evans, Partner at Coodes Solicitors, welcomes the introduction of civil partnerships to mixed sex couples, giving them the opportunity to access legal rights without entering into a marriage.

Mixed-sex couples can now register their intent to form a civil partnership. This change in the law, which came into force on 2nd December, follows an announcement from former Prime Minister Teresa May that the law would change to make civil partnerships open to all.

Civil partnerships were first introduced in the UK in 2004 to give same sex couples the opportunity to access the same legal rights as married couples. Ten years later, legislation to allow same sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by Parliament.

With same sex couples having two different options to formalise their relationships, a heterosexual couple launched a campaign to be granted a civil partnership. They eventually won their case in June 2018, when the Supreme Court said the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I welcome this latest development, which addresses an inequality and gives all couples the opportunity to gain legal rights, even if they do not want to enter into a traditional marriage.

What is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

In terms of legal rights and responsibilities, a civil partnership and a marriage are almost the same. The only difference is that a civil partnership cannot be dissolved due to adultery, unlike a divorce.

Unlike a marriage, a civil partnership ceremony has no religious connotations. Some people see marriage as being based on an outdated patriarchal culture and civil partnerships as being more equal.

What difference will the change make?

The number of heterosexual couples who choose to have a civil partnership remains to be seen. There was a dramatic decrease in same sex couples entering into civil partnerships following the introduction of same sex marriage. However, there were still 956 civil partnerships in England and Wales in 2018, so some couples are still choosing this route rather than marriage. It will be very interesting to see what the take up is over the coming months and years.

I hope that this change in the law will encourage more couples to give their relationships legal status. Unfortunately the myth of common law marriage still prevails, making the UK’s three million cohabiting couples vulnerable if they separate or if a partner dies. Statistics suggest that nearly half of the UK population believes that unmarried couples possess the same rights as married couples. However, there is no legislation to protect people who live together without being married or in a civil partnership.

This change in the law will give those couples who do not feel marriage is right for them an alternative way of accessing important legal protection.

If you have been affected by any of these issues please contact our Family Team on 0800 328 3282 or

Fri 6th Dec 2019

Sarah Evans

Head of Family

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