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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships: your rights

Couples that are married, living together or in a civil partnership have certain rights. Find out what you need to know on the practical and legal issues surrounding getting married, living together and civil partnerships (for same-sex couples).


If you are planning a wedding, you'll need to provide some documents and personal information beforehand. You need to let your council know in advance of your plans. You must also be aware of laws concerning immigration and your residency status.

Marriage certificates and registrations

If you are already married and looking for a copy of your marriage certificate, you can order a copy through the register office or the religious building where your marriage took place.

The General Register Office (GRO) 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.

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

Civil marriage ceremonies

You can find more details about civil marriage ceremonies by following the link below.

Enter the details of where you live and you'll be taken to your local council website. It will have information about wedding venues available in your area.

English Heritage also publishes a list of its historic buildings that can be hired for a civil wedding.

Civil partnership

Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'.

Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on 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
  • their duty to provide reasonable maintenance for their civil partner and any children of the family
  • ability to apply for parental responsibility for their civil partner's child
  • inheritance of tenancy agreements
  • protection from domestic violence
  • immigration and nationality purposes

How to register a civil partnership

In order to form a civil partnership you must first give notice of your plans. This involves letting a registration office know about your intention to register a civil partnership.

Once you've done that, notices are publicised by the registration authority for a period of 15 days, similar to marriage notices. A civil partnership can be formed in England and Wales at register offices or other approved locations. You can get a list of approved places from your local register office.

Cohabitation - living together

There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales in cohabitation, and they are given legal protection in several areas. However, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than people who are married or who have formed a civil partnership.

Many people think that, after living with their partner for a few 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 you decide to separate, or if one of you dies.

You can find out about the current rights of cohabiting 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 cohabitants 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.

Additional links

Order certificates online

Apply for birth, marriage and death certificates

Building a strong relationship

Want help with your relationship? Know where to go?

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