Helping Shape Your Future

Since 1986

Helping Shape Your Future

Since 1986

Personal Development theme of the month:

Marriage and Civil Partnership, Cohabitation / Pregnancy, Maternity, Paternity and Adoption

Marriage or Civil Partnership - What is the difference?

The main difference between the two legal relationships is that a marriage is formed by vows and can be performed in a religious ceremony before signing a marriage certificate, whereas a civil partnership is formed by signing a civil partnership certificate.

Is a civil partnership a marriage in the UK?

Same-sex couples who registered their civil partnership in England and Wales can convert their civil partnership into a marriage. Opposite-sex civil partners can’t convert their civil partnership to a marriage.

Why do people have a civil partnership and not marriage?

Civil partnerships may offer couples a modern alternative to marriage and may be appropriate where partners do not wish to be associated with the traditional religious and patriarchal connotations of marriage.

Do you have to divorce from a civil partnership?

If you’re married and want to permanently end your marriage, you should apply for a divorce. If you’re in a civil partnership and want to permanently end your civil partnership, you should apply for a dissolution. If you don’t want to get a divorce or dissolution, you can get a legal separation.

Living together without being married or in a civil partnership.

When you choose to live with your partner without being married or in a civil partnership, this is call Cohabiting. You will have fewer legal rights than couples who are married or in a civil partnership which means there’s limited legal protection if the relationship breaks down or one partner dies. You can apply for a cohabitation agreement which is a legally binding document that sets out what will happen to your finances, house, and any children if you separate, or if one partner becomes ill or dies.

Telling your employer you're pregnant

If you’re entitled to paid maternity leave, you must tell your employer you’re pregnant no later than the 15th week before your baby is due. You must tell them:
  • you’re pregnant
  • the date of the week your baby is due
  • the date you want to start maternity leave
It’s a good idea to put this in an email or letter, as your employer might want it in writing. Your employer might ask to see a medical certificate or ‘MAT B1′ form. You can get this from your doctor or midwife once you’re 20 weeks’ pregnant.

Holiday and maternity leave

You still accrue (build up) your usual holiday entitlement while you’re on maternity leave. This includes bank holidays. You cannot take holiday or get holiday pay while on maternity leave. But you can arrange with your employer for you to take it before or after maternity leave. You should talk with your employer as early as possible to agree how and when to take your holiday entitlement, including any you’ll accrue while on maternity leave.

Paternity leave rights / How much paternity leave an employee can take

Paternity leave allows an employee to spend time with a new child and support their partner. If an employee is eligible for statutory paternity leave, by law they can choose to take 1 or 2 weeks. This is the same even if they’re having more than 1 child, for example twins. It might be written in their contract that they get more than statutory paternity leave. This can be called ‘enhanced’ or ‘contractual’ paternity leave.

Paternity leave and pay for adoption

When a couple adopt a child, one person is the ‘main adopter’ and one is the ‘secondary adopter’. The main adopter can take adoption leave and pay. The secondary adopter can take paternity leave. They cannot change or swap which one they’re taking once they have informed their employers.

Adoption leave and pay

You might be eligible for Statutory Adoption Leave or Statutory Adoption Pay if you’re:

  • adopting a child
  • fostering a child permanently and becoming their legal parent (‘fostering to adopt’)

‘Statutory’ means the legal minimum your employer must give you. Your employer might offer a better adoption leave and pay scheme. Check your contract or speak to your employer.

Adoption leave If you're in a couple

If you’re in a couple, only one of you can get adoption leave and pay. You should decide between yourselves who will get it. The partner who does not get adoption leave and pay might be able to get paternity leave and pay. Both of you might also be able to use Shared Parental Leave and Pay to take time off.

Can a child have 3 legal parents in the UK?

A child can only have two legal parents. Being a child’s legal parent means: You have financial responsibility for the child which includes paying child maintenance if the child does not live with you. You will be considered parent and child for the purposes of British nationality, inheritance and pension rights.

Further reading and useful links

Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships - Office for National Statistics (

The UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics.

Living together and marriage: legal differences - Citizens Advice

Giving people the knowledge and the confidence they need to find their way forward – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.
CIPD logo

Maternity, paternity and adoption rights

The professional body for HR and people development

BMA - Maternity, paternity and adoption advice and support

The BMA represents, supports and negotiates on behalf of all UK doctors and medical students.

Discovery learning platform

Through March NWCS are celebrating Marriage and Civil Partnership, Cohabitation / Pregnancy, Maternity, Paternity and Adoption A further learning opportunity in relation to Health & Wellbeing has been set up for you via the Discovery learning platform.

Please ensure to speak with your Training Officer about this.