Marriage, Cohabitation and Civil Partnership

When you have been with your partner for a while you might start to think about cohabitation, civil partnership or marriage.

These are all natural progressions in a relationship, however there are a few things to consider before committing to cohabiting, civil partnership and marriage. Below you can find some guidance on what to consider before committing and where to find more information if you do decide that you want to commit to any of the three.  

Please be aware that there are legal differences between partners who cohabitate, are in a civil partnership or are married, if you want legal advice on the differences between these and what that might mean for you, you should contact a solicitor. 


There is no legal definition of living together, or cohabiting, but generally is meant that a couple lives together without being married. Sometimes partners who live together care called common-law partners.  

It can be a good idea to draw up a legal agreement called a cohabitation contract or living together agreement in order to formalise certain aspects of your status with a partner. In this agreement you should outline the rights and obligations of each partner towards the other. If you make a cohabitation contract, you should also reach a legal agreement about how you share the property, this is referred to as a ‘declaration of trust’.  

Although you do not need legal support in order to be cohabiting, you will need help from a family law solicitor if you want to make a cohabitation contract or a declaration of trust. If you need help finding a solicitor, you can contact your nearest Citizen Advice.

Civil Partnership

A civil partnership is a legally defined relationship which can be registered by partners who are not related to each other. Civil partnerships are available for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. If you choose to register a civil partnership, your relationship will be legally recognised. Meaning that you will have added legal rights but also added responsibilities.

If you have registered a civil partnership, it can only end if one of you apply to court for the partnership to be brought to a legal end or if one of you dies. However, you cannot apply for a civil partnership to end until it has lasted at least one year.

As civil partners, you may decide to draw up an agreement, this is referred to as a pre-registration agreement, this is done before you register your partnership. This agreement sets out your rights and obligations towards one another and especially what would happen if the relationship broke down. This agreement could include arrangements for children and personal possessions such as any family homes or any pensions. If you decide that you want a pre-registration agreement, you both should seek legal advice individually before you make an agreement.

If you want more information about registering a civil partnership, you can find that on the Citizen Advice webpage. You can also find out more about the legal differences between a civil partnership and cohabiting.


If you want to get married you can choose a civil or religious marriage, however sometimes a religious marriage alone is not valid which means that you might also need a civil marriage. In order to prove the validity of a married you need:

  • A certified copy of an entry in a UK register of marriages; or
  • A marriage certificate issued in the country where the marriage took place

When you get married you will take on a lot of responsibilities and have new legal rights. Therefore, it is important that you are aware of what a marriage entails. You might also want to set up a pre- or post-nuptial agreement. For further information about getting married you can have a look at the Citizen Advice webpage who provide much more detailed information on getting married.

You can also find more information on the legal differences between cohabiting and marriage on the Citizen Advice website.

External Resources

Last Updated: 5th September 2022