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Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples:

The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 came into force in December meaning that civil partnerships are now available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. These new regulations were finally made on 5 November 2019. They came into force on 2nd December 2019 meaning those wishing to enter into a mixed-couple civil partnership can be registered from 31st December 2019, after giving the required 28-days notice.

Giving her approval, the Minister of State, Baroness Williams explained that "there are over 3 million opposite-sex couples who cohabit but choose not to marry, these couples support around 1 million children yet they do not have the security or legal protection that married couples or same-sex civil partners enjoy". There are also generous tax benefits for those who are married which cohabiting couples cannot take advantage of regardless of the length of their relationship.

Same-sex commitment options:

Civil partnerships were introduced in England and Wales in 2005 to provide a legally binding commitment for same-sex couples. In 2013 same-sex marriage was introduced with the first taking place in March 2014. What is not so well known is that it is possible to convert a civil partnership into a marriage.

Any couples who registered as civil partners in England and Wales and some couples who registered their partnerships abroad (for example armed forces personnel) can apply to convert their partnership.

There are various different procedures which can be followed. The most common are the standard procedure (which takes place at a register office) and the two stage procedure where a conversion ceremony can take place in other premises such as a religious venue.

Converting a civil partnership to marriage:

Conversion from civil partnership for same-sex couples using the standard procedure is a simple administrative process and can take less than 30 minutes. Once you have visited the register office and provided the required information and evidence to the superintendent registrar, the conversion can take place. Each person must sign the conversion declaration in the presence of the other and the superintendent registrar. The superintendent registrar will then sign the conversion declaration in your presence. You may wish to say the declaration wording aloud to one another before signing the conversion declaration.

However, if you want to convert your civil partnership into a marriage somewhere other than at the registrar's office, then you must follow the two stage process. The first stage is for both parties to attend the appointment at the register office together and provide the information required. The second stage is the signing of the conversion declaration, which can be followed by a ceremony and can take place at venues where same-sex couples are permitted to marry.

Equal choice:

However, the work to achieve full equality for same-sex and opposite-sex couples is not yet complete.

Whilst same-sex couples can convert their civil partnerships to marriage, this is not yet permitted for opposite-sex couples, moreover opposite-sex couples will be unable to convert their marriages to a civil partnership.


Perhaps an indication of modern views on marriage, Cohabitation Agreements are on the rise. Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal concept of "common law" spouse and the law relating to cohabiting couples is outdated. The law still does not recognise a living-together relationship outside of marriage or civil partnership. According to the Office of National Statistics, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK; the number of same-sex couples and families grew by a huge 50% between 2015 and 2018.​

Despite this growing figure, laws have not changed regarding the rights of unmarried couples or those not in a civil partnership. For many years, family lawyers have been campaigning to change the law but so far their efforts have proved fruitless.

The future of family law:

The continuing evolution of relationships and family dynamics require prompt reactive changes to the law. Marriage is increasingly being viewed as archaic and out-dated.  It will be interesting to see whether opposite-sex civil partnerships will become more preferable to marriage and whether those who have been cohabiting will be choosing to commit themselves in this alternative way. Pinney Talfourd’s Family Law Team are one of the largest in Essex and regularly provide commentary on changes in family law.

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Victoria Bunn
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