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Family Law

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09 DEC 2014

From civil partnership to marriage

From civil partnership to marriage
From 10 December 2014 it will be possible to convert civil partnerships into marriage.

The year 2014 already represents a landmark for same-sex couples. In March, the first same-sex marriages were celebrated in England and Wales and those from overseas were recognised also. However, before the year closes there will be further developments as from 10 December 2014, it will be possible to convert Civil Partnerships into same sex marriages and north of the border same sex marriages will be celebrated from Hogmanay onwards.

What is the difference between civil partnership and same-sex marriage?

In the debate leading up to enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the government produced a masterly table giving a comparison of same-sex marriage and civil partnership.

As civil partnerships effectively provide all the rights and responsibilities of marriage that it is in the power of governments to give, there is little legal difference. However, the debates about reform disclosed how powerful the cultural connotations of marriage are. Ultimately it was also decided that it was insufficient to create an institution that was separate but equal. Additionally, problems were experienced with the recognition of civil partnerships in countries such as Spain because they were poorly understood. On that basis, same-sex marriage is likely to have greater currency overseas.

How many people will this effect?

The latest statistics are not available but the ONS estimate that in the first 7 years since legalisation (ie until the end of December 2012), over 60,000 civil partnerships were registered. Dissolutions are uncommon (at present).

It is possible that many couples will feel attached to civil partnership and will not want to change the status of their relationships.

After a consultation, the government announced in June 2014 that it proposed to retain Civil Partnership as a separate status for those who would prefer it. In many Nordic countries and the US states, they were just converted into marriages by statute.

What is involved?

The parties will make a Conversion declaration in the following terms:

'I solemnly and sincerely declare that we are in a civil partnership with each other and I know of no legal reason why we may not convert our civil partnership into a marriage. I understand that on signing this document we will be converting our civil partnership into a marriage and you will thereby become my lawful wife [or husband].'
Section 9 (6) of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 provides that the civil partnership ends upon conversion but that the resulting marriage is to be treated as having subsisted since the date the civil partnership was formed.

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How can a civil partnership be converted into marriage

The details of the process is provided in the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/3181).

As a result of a pressure by backbenchers and a petition by 40,000, the government has provided couples with choices. If the couple want, the conversion can be effected in one visit to the superintendent registrar by providing the requisite information and signing a declaration that they are in a civil partnership with each other and wish to convert it into a marriage.

Alternatively, the couple may go to a superintendent registrar with the required evidence and complete the conversion by signing the declaration in another place - where a ceremony may be held. That may include religious premises with all the well-known caveats.

Special arrangements are also provided if the couple cannot travel to a register office because one of them is housebound, detained or seriously ill and not expected to recover.


Taking account of the fact that many couples might have chosen to enter into a marriage in the first place if that had been available, the government has effectively waived fees for a year for simple conversions if the civil partnership was entered into before same-sex marriage was legalised (on 29 March 2014). If a ceremony is planned in a Register Office then a fee of only £45 will be applied for the first year.

Scotland & Northern Ireland

Scotland introduces same-sex marriage on 16 December 2014. With the 14-day notice period, the intention is that the first wedding ceremonies can take place on Hogmanay 2014. Given a bit more time to consider the matter, the Scottish Government has arranged that civil partnerships can be converted into marriages as of the same date. This can be done administratively or by going through with a wedding ceremony – which again could take place as early as 31 December.

The Stormont Assembly voted against introducing same-sex marriage in the province.

If you are from overseas or Northern Ireland

Unlike civil partnership, for marriage, the dual domicile rule applies, ie both parties to a marriage should be of a domicile in which their marriage would be lawful. It is likely that there is an exception if one of the couple is domiciled in England and Wales.

The practical implications of this is that if Sinead and Graine obtained a Civil Partnership in Derry but now live in London their civil partnership is valid here. However, if they were to convert this into marriage, this may not be lawful. The same would apply to Rolph from Germany and Anselm from Italy.

In these situations, the couples really should obtain legal advice but they may be better advised to retain their civil partnership.

A relationship registered overseas that is treated as a civil partnership in the UK (by virtue of CPA 2004, Sch 20) cannot be converted into a marriage.

If you are living overseas

The Regulations also provide for the conversion of civil partnerships to same sex marriage in a number of embassies and consulates overseas – presently Australia, Germany, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Serbia and Vietnam.

You must have been living in the country for 28 days and the civil partnerships in question must have been created by the law of England and Wales or Scotland (ie not Northern Ireland).

Martin Downs is the co-author of Same Sex Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Family Law, 2014).
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