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The Proposal – What Is The Best Way To Formalise Your Relationship?

In this blog Jacqueline Major, Partner in the Family Team, talks about same sex couples thinking about formalising their relationships.

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What choices do I have to formalise my same sex relationship?

When you are in a happy and loving relationship, it is exciting to think about taking the next step. But what is the best way to formalise your relationship? Whilst this decision is deeply personal and remains up to the individuals involved, our family law solicitors can help guide you when making things legally official.

The choices for same sex couples in the England and Wales are the same as for heterosexual couples:

  • Marriage
  • Civil Partnership
  • Cohabitation

What is the law on same sex marriages?

Same sex marriages became available in England and Wales in 2014 after the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. There is no longer any difference in the way that opposite sex and same sex couples can create a legal relationship. Any couple can choose between getting married or entering into a civil partnership. It is also possible to convert a civil partnership into a marriage, if you wish to do so.

Not all countries recognise same-sex marriage or civil partnerships. If you are planning to move abroad or have assets abroad, you should take local advice from a lawyer on their status.

How do I get married to my same sex partner?

You can get married either in a civil ceremony (for example a civil ceremony in a registry office or approved premises such as a country house hotel) or you can get married on religious premises with blessing through a religious ceremony.

You will need to check whether the religious premises agree to hold same-sex marriages, as this will vary.

Prenuptial and pre-civil registration agreements

You may want to consider having a prenuptial agreement or a pre-civil partnership agreement that sets out what you intend to happen to your finances in the event the relationship were to break down. This can save a lot of uncertainty and costs if the relationship does not last.

What is a Civil Partnership?

A Civil partnership is a formal legal relationship between same-sex partners or heterosexual partners who will acquire the status of civil partner. Some people prefer not to “marry” and so this is an alternative, a legally recognised civil union.


Some couples decide not to enter into a marriage or civil partnership and instead choose to cohabit. This is just a formal way of saying that they live together as a couple. Cohabitation does not give financial rights as do marriage and civil partnerships – there is no such thing as a “common law spouse” and if the relationship were to break down, even after many years, there can be no claims over capital, pensions or for maintenance and the law on property held by one or both is complex.

If you wish to cohabit it is highly recommended that you have a cohabitation agreement, which is similar to a prenuptial or pre-civil arrangement agreement. This is a legal document that allows you to formally record the terms of how you live together, including agreement on finances and property.

Listen to this episode of our podcast discussing what a cohabitation agreement is, what they can cover and what should and should not be included.

What are the legal consequences of being married or in a Civil Partnership compared to just cohabiting?

In a marriage or civil partnership, there is an obligation on each spouse to make reasonable financial provision for the other during the marriage, as well as at the end of it. For example, if one of you is not working, the other partner should be helping to cover their living costs. However, these obligations do not automatically exist if you are cohabiting.

A spouse in a marriage can acquire certain rights to live in the family home, even if it is not in their name. These are called Family Home Rights. This cannot be acquired in a cohabitation unless property is held in joint names.

If the marriage ends there are financial claims that can be made such as over pensions, savings and property in one parties name which cannot be made if a cohabitation ends.

A cohabitation does not need a formal process to end it. Marriage ends with divorce, a civil partnership is ended by dissolution proceedings, both of which are legal and require a court process.

If you would like to talk to us about marriage, civil partnerships, prenuptial and cohabitation agreements, please get in touch with our family law experts today on 0330 822 3451 or request a call back online.

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