Understanding The Differences Between Cohabiting, Civil Partnerships And Marriage

Often, when purchasing a home with a partner, one of the last things people think about is how they’re going to be living in the eyes of the law. Many are unaware of just how much of a difference their relationship’s legal status can affect their lives, especially when big milestones come along, such as buying a house or having children. It is more important than you may realise to know what your relationship actually means by law. 

Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for people to need legal advice from family law specialists in relation to trust matters, inheritance or tax, for example, simply because they didn’t realise how their relationship impacted different things legally. So, to help any couple who are looking to find out more about cohabiting, being in a civil partnership or getting married, our family law solicitors in East London have put together a little guide to highlighting the legal differences between these incredibly common relationship statuses. 


Cohabiting, also referred to as common-law partners, is simply when you live with your partner but you haven’t legally formalised your relationship. This means that in certain situations, you will have fewer rights than if you’re married or in a civil partnership. For example, if you were to pass away without a Will, under the rules of intestacy your partner won’t automatically inherit anything like they would if they were your husband or wife. 

When cohabiting, it is worthwhile ensuring that you use different legal documentation, such as a Will or a living together agreement, to help you prevent any issues that may be caused simply due to your relationship’s legal status. A family law solicitor will be able to advise you regarding which documentation is best able to protect you. 

Civil partnerships

Being in a civil partnership is a legal relationship and you can get both same-sex and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Unlike cohabiting, when you’re in a civil partnership, you have legal recognition and this helps in many different situations. Of course, as you may have expected, when you form a civil partnership, it will only end when one of the pair passes away or you apply to the court to legally end the partnership, similarly to marriage. 

Thankfully, because a civil partnership is recognised by the law, you will have much more protection in relation to rules and rights. For example, when you pass away without a Will and you’re in a civil partnership, under the rules of intestacy, your partner will automatically inherit all of your estate if you have no children. If you do have children, your partner will inherit the statutory legacy of £270,000 and the remainder will be split equally between the partner and children. This one huge difference can provide couples with peace of mind. 


Marriage is a formal union that many people are familiar with and this legal contract essentially unites two people. In general, getting married isn’t too dissimilar from forming a civil partnership and you can guarantee that you will be legally protected much more than you would be if you were just cohabiting. Again, a marriage can only be ended if one of the pair passes away or you decide to apply for a divorce. 

You can find out more about the similarities and differences between civil partnership and marriage on the Gov website or a family law solicitor will be able to advise you further. You should know that there are legal documents that can change general rules relating to marriage, such as prenuptial agreements and Wills. 

Understanding your relationship’s legal status 

Hopefully, you will now know a little bit more about the differences between these common relationship statuses and the importance of ensuring you’re aware of how this status is seen in the eyes of the law. Now you have a better understanding, you should also take some time to evaluate your relationship status and if there is anything you need to do legally in order to protect yourself and your loved one in different circumstances. 

If you would like to speak to a family law solicitor in East London about your relationship’s legal status please visit the Location Lawyer website today. Here at Location Lawyer, we specialise in connecting people to specialists local to them, so no matter where you are in the country, we will help you find the best family law solicitors to provide you with the legal advice you require. You can trust that all of the law firms recommended on our website will be more than capable of providing you with the assistance you need regarding your relationship’s legal status.