In October 2018, former Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the law would be changed to allow mixed-sex couples in England and Wales to enter civil partnerships.

The government stated that it would address the "imbalance" that permitted same-sex couples to choose between having a civil partnership or getting married, but didn't give mixed-sex couples the same choice.

Monday 2 December 2019 marks the first day on which mixed-sex couples can register their intent to enter a civil partnership.

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The minimum period of notice for a civil partnership is 28 days, meaning that the mixed-sex couples who register their intent on the first day may conduct their civil partnerships from New Year's Eve.

So what exactly are civil partnerships? Here is everything you need to know:

What are civil partnerships?

A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people and offers many of the same benefits as a conventional marriage.

It was introduced in 2004 by the Labour Government under the Civil Partnership Act applying to same-sex couples over the age of 16.

Same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the UK, which came into effect in 2014.

How are they different from marriages?

Those in a civil partnership benefit from the same rights as married couples in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.

However, unlike a conventional marriage, there are no religious connotations attached to civil partnerships, making them a desirable option for those who want to legally recognise their relationship but don’t align themselves with a particular religion.

It will also take place in front a registrar as opposed to a recognised religious leader, such as a vicar or a rabbi.

How are they different from marriages with civil ceremonies? 

The civil partnership ceremony itself does not involve an exchanging of vows or the singing of hymns as a conventional wedding might.

Instead, the union is simply valid after both parties sign the civil partnership document and the terminology is also different.

Unlike marriage, after which partners would typically refer to one another as “husband” and “wife”, couples in a civil partnership would refer to each other as “civil partners”, explained Joanne Green, senior associate at Slater and Gordon.

When it comes to ending a civil partnership, the dissolution process is similar to marriage except adultery cannot be used as reasoning.

Why might this be the preferred option?

Marriage doesn't always fit with everyone's ideologies.

For example, civil partnerships could be favoured by those who object to marriage, perceiving it as being steeped in patriarchal tradition, in which women are “given away” by their fathers and promise to "obey" their husbands.

What about common law marriages?

Common law husband and wife is terminology used to refer to couples who cohabit but are not married.

Despite popular beliefs, these couples do not have the same legal rights as marriage, but the same as single people. 

They can formalise their living status via a cohabitation contract.

However, it's unclear as to whether the rights and obligations outlined would have any legal standing.

The Independent's Millennial Love group is the best place to discuss to the highs and lows of modern dating and relationships. Join the conversation here.​

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