Marriage, Cohabitation And Civil Partnerships

There is a lot of information and advice available on the practical and legal issues surrounding getting married, living together and civil partnerships (for same-sex couples).


The General Register Office (GRO) publishes an online guide to getting married. The website covers where you can get married in England and Wales and how to do it abroad. It also gives details on the residential and legal requirements for marriage, and what you need to do if you discover an error on your marriage certificate.

The GRO has responsibility for England and Wales, and there are equivalent offices for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you are looking for a copy of your marriage certificate, this can be ordered online or through the register office or religious building where the marriage took place. The General Register Office holds a central copy of all registrations for England and Wales. Local Register Offices also hold their own records of all events registered in their area.

Civil Marriage Ceremonies

You can find more details about civil marriage ceremonies by following the link below. Enter details of where you live and you'll be taken to your local authority website where you can find the venues available in your area. English Heritage also publishes a list of its historic buildings available for hire for a civil wedding.

Civil partnership

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005 and enables same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship. Couples who form a civil partnership have a new legal status, that of 'civil partner'.

Civil partners have equal treatment to 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

How to register a civil partnership

In order to form a civil partnership you must first ‘give notice’. This involves stating your intention to register a civil partnership to your registration authority. Once given, your notices are publicised by the registration authority for a period of 15 days. A civil partnership can be formed in England and Wales at a register office or approved premises.

The General Register Office has detailed information on the process and costs of forming a civil partnership.

Book a civil partnership

The 'Book a Civil Partnership' link below will let you enter details of where you live and then take you to your local authority website where you can find out more.

Income-related benefits and other frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Since civil partnerships were introduced there have been important changes affecting same-sex couples who claim income-related benefits, regardless of whether the couple decide to form a civil partnership. The Department for Work and Pensions has published a leaflet containing information on how partnerships may affect your benefits and the Women and Equality Unit has published some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about civil partnerships.

Co-habitation - living together

There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales in co-habitation. Although co-habitants are now given legal protection in several areas, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than their counterparts who are married or who have formed a civil partnership.

Most people think that, after they've been living with their partner for a couple of years, they become “common law husband and wife” with the same rights as married couples. This is not the case. In fact, couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples or civil partners.

There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’.

If you are living together as a couple, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your partner. There are also ways to minimise the legal and financial problems which may arise if, as can happen, you decide to separate, or if one of you dies.

You can find out about the current rights of co-habiting couples from Advicenow – an independent website offering information on rights and legal issues. Their ‘Living Together’ campaign is intended to make both opposite and same-sex co-habitants more aware of their legal status. The campaign also provides advice on how to protect yourself and your family, should you wish to do so.

If you would like more information about the differences in the legal position of married and unmarried couples, the ‘Married or Not’ section of the One Plus One website provides an overview.

Book a civil partnership

The following link will let you enter details of where you live and then take you to your local authority website where you can find out more about how to book a civil partnership ceremony in your area.

Divorce and separation

There is information and advice available on divorce and separation in the parents section of Directgov.

Getting a divorce starts with a form called a 'petition for divorce'.

Once you have filled in a petition, which you can get from a solicitor, some stationers, or the HM Courts Service website, take it to a divorce county court or to the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London.

On the form you'll have to explain why you want a divorce. You cannot start divorce proceedings unless you have been married for one year.

Reasons for a divorce

The court will only grant you a divorce if a judge agrees that your marriage is at an end. The legal term for this is ' irretrievably broken down'.

You must satisfy the court that one or more of the following is true as proof that your marriage is over:

• adultery by your husband or wife

• unreasonable behaviour by your husband or wife
• two years' separation, if you both agree to the divorce

• five years' separation, if there is no agreement to the divorce

The main stages of divorce

Once you return your petition to the divorce county court you have started the divorce process. From now on you are legally known know as 'the petitioner'. Your husband or wife who you are divorcing is legally known as 'the respondent.'

You will need to supply copies of your marriage certificate, details of any children involved and also the name and address of any person with whom your husband or wife has committed adultery if you wish to name them in the divorce proceedings as grounds for the divorce. They are known as 'the co-respondent',

The courts will then post a copy of the petition to your husband or wife and any co-respondents named in your divorce petition. This is known as 'serving the petition'.

Your husband or wife then has eight days to acknowledge receipt of the petition. If they don't do this, the court will contact you and ask for more details and, if necessary, arrange for a court official - know as a bailiff - to serve the petition in person.

Once the petition has been served, what happens next depends upon whether or not your husband or wife contests the divorce or agrees to it. You may be asked to provide more information by the court. If you have children then the court must examine and agree with arrangements made for the children (eg who they are going to live with, where they are going to live, what contact they will have with the non-resident parent) before the divorce is granted.

The next and most important part of the divorce process is known as 'the Decree Nisi'. This is the first stage of the actual divorce. It is granted only when a judge has reviewed all of the papers and is satisfied that there are proper grounds for a divorce. The judge will also check that all financial issues and arrangements for the children have been agreed or are in the process of being resolved. You may be required to attend court, but many divorces happen entirely by post.

Decree Absolute

The final stage of a divorce is called 'the Decree Absolute.' You can apply for the Decree Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi. If you don't apply for the Decree Absolute, then your husband or wife as the respondent can apply for it, but only after a further three months have passed.

When you receive the Decree Absolute, you are no longer married and are free to re-marry. The court will only grant the Decree Absolute when the judge agrees that all arrangements for the children are now satisfactory. A judge can make a final financial order before the Decree Absolute is granted, but the order will only come into force after the decree has been made absolute.

Getting help with the process

You do not have to use a solicitor; many couples get divorced without consulting a solicitor. But you may need legal advice if you are not sure whether you have grounds for a divorce, or if your husband or wife does not agree to a divorce, or if you have children. You may also need legal advice about financial issues, even if you agree on how to divide up your property and finances. The process of sorting out the financial aspect of the divorce is known as 'ancillary relief'. It is not the case that property is automatically divided in a 50/50 split. If you do go to court the judge will consider a number of factors when deciding who should get what, but the needs of any children will always be the main consideration.

The Citizens Advice Bureau can help you fill in the necessary forms, and can help you find a solicitor, if you need one.

There are also many sources of free advice and support available online during what can be a very stressful and difficult time. Some of them are listed below.

Comments (0)

Rich text editor