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Registering a civil partnership

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland.

Coronavirus – civil partnerships

Civil partnerships can go ahead in Scotland but you should check what protection level your venue is in using the Scottish government postcode checker. This will tell you what rules and guidance you should follow. 

The protection level could change at short notice. Speak to your venue about what you'll do if this happens. Check what to do if you want a refund because of coronavirus

The maximum number of people at a ceremony or reception should be:

  • 50 in level 0
  • 20 in levels 1, 2 or 3
  • 15 at a ceremony in level 4, and the government advises that you don't have a reception.

This number includes:

  •  the couple
  • all guests, including children
  • carers
  • staff like the photographer or musicians.
  • The celebrant, venue staff and catering staff aren’t included. 

You should read the Scottish government’s guidance on marriages and civil partnerships.

The venue for a wedding reception must follow the guidance for tourism and hospitality, and extra hygiene and other measures will be required. 

What is a civil partnership

A civil partnership is a legal relationship which can be registered by two people of the same sex. A civil partnership gives you the same rights and responsibilities as marriage.

Same-sex couples also have the option to get married.

Currently, opposite-sex couples can register a civil partnership in England and Wales but not in Scotland. The Scottish government is working to introduce opposite-sex civil partnerships and will publish more information about this later in 2020.

To register a civil partnership, you and your partner must sign a civil partnership document in front of two witnesses and the person registering your civil partnership.

In some situations, a same-sex couple who hasn't registered a civil partnership will have the same legal rights and responsibilities as a couple who has registered a civil partnership. This is the case, for example, when working out your entitlement to welfare benefits and tax credits.

Who can register a civil partnership

You can register a civil partnership with your same-sex partner if all of the following apply:

  • you're both aged 16 or over
  • neither of you is already a civil partner or married
  • you're not relatives who are legally forbidden from registering a civil partnership
  • you both understand the nature of a civil partnership and can consent to its formation.

How to register a civil partnership

There are two steps needed to register a civil partnership. The first is to give notice of your intention to register, and the second is to actually register the civil partnership.

Giving notice

You and your partner will each need to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership to the district registrar for the area where you wish to register your civil partnership. There's no legal requirement for a minimum length of residence in Scotland for a couple who wishes to form a civil partnership in Scotland. As there are no residence requirements, you can choose the district in Scotland where you wish to register.

When you give notice, you'll be asked to give details of the date and place where the civil partnership is to be registered. You'll also have to give the register office certain personal details. These are your name, your address, your date of birth and whether you've been in a civil partnership or married before. You may also be required to give evidence of your nationality.

When you give notice to the district registrar, this must be accompanied by your birth certificate and the correct fee. If either you or your partner has been married or in a civil partnership before, you'll need to produce documents to prove you're free to register a civil partnership. This could be, for example, a decree of divorce or the death certificate of a former civil partner. If one of you is subject to immigration control, you may have to provide additional documentary evidence.

Once you've given notice of your intention to register a civil partnership, details from the notice will be published in the register office for the area where you intend to register.

The details must be made available for people to see for 28 days before you can register your civil partnership. This is to give an opportunity for any objections to be made.

The details made available won't include your address or that of your partner.

Once the 28-day period has expired, if there are no objections, the register office will produce a legal document called a civil partnership schedule. You'll need this document to register your civil partnership. If your civil partnership is going to be registered by a religious or belief celebrant, you or your partner will need to collect the schedule in person from the registrar's office. Once the schedule is ready, you're free to register your partnership within the next three months. If you don't register your civil partnership within this period, you won't be able to register unless you start the whole process again.

In some exceptional circumstances, for example if one of you is seriously ill, you can ask for the 28-day period to be waived.

You can download the civil partnership notice application form and guidance notes from the National Records of Scotland website.

Registration

A civil partnership can be registered by:

  • a district or assistant registrar
  • a religious or belief celebrant who's been authorised by the registrar general, if the religious or belief body has agreed to register civil partnerships.

If your civil partnership is going to be registered by a registrar, it may take place either in a registration office or in any other place that the registration authority agrees to, except for religious premises.

If your civil partnership is going to be registered by a religious or belief celebrant, this can take place anywhere agreed by you and your celebrant.

There's no legal obligation or duty on a religious or belief body to register civil partnerships. It isn't unlawful discrimination for an individual celebrant or religious or belief body to refuse to register a civil partnership.

Non-religious venues can't choose whether to hold civil partnerships or not, if they hold weddings. This would be unlawful discrimination. However, religious organisations can refuse to hold civil partnerships in their venues.

You can access a directory of registrars in Scotland on the National Records of Scotland website . You should check the venue is available before registering your notice to register.

You and your partner will have legally registered your civil partnership once you've signed the civil partnership schedule in front of the person registering the civil partnership and two witnesses.

You can arrange to have a ceremony in addition to your registration process, but this isn't legally required. If you'd like to have a ceremony, you should contact the local registrar or your religious or belief celebrant to find out what arrangements can be made.

If your civil partnership is being registered by a religious or belief celebrant, you must arrange for the civil partnership schedule to be returned to the district registrar within three days of the civil partnership so it can be registered in the civil partnership register.

The cost of registering a civil partnership

You can find information about the costs involved in registering a civil partnership on the National Records of Scotland website .

Special rules for people who are seriously ill

There are special rules for registering a civil partnership for people who are seriously ill and not expected to recover. These rules make registering a civil partnership faster. Only one of you will need to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership to the register office. You'll need to provide evidence that one of you is seriously ill, not expected to recover and too ill to be moved.

Special rules if one of you has acquired a different gender

If one partner has acquired a different gender and has a full gender recognition certificate, they'll be able to form a civil partnership in the same way as any other person.

You can read more about gender recognition, and how to register a civil partnership if one of you has acquired a different gender, on the UK government website.

People subject to immigration control

There are special rules for registering a civil partnership if either you or your partner is subject to immigration control.

You're subject to immigration control unless you:

  • are a British citizen or someone who has the right to live in the UK
  • are a national of a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland - the EEA includes all EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway
  • have no conditions attached to your stay in the UK, for example because you're a diplomat or a member of visiting armed forces.

If you're an EEA or Swiss national living in the UK and you want to stay after 30 June 2021, you should apply for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. It's worth applying as soon as possible.

You must be in the UK by 31 December 2020 to apply for settled or pre-settled status.

From 1 January 2021, EEA and Swiss nationals who don't have settled status will be subject to immigration control.

If you're subject to immigration control, you and your partner must both give notice to register your civil partnership at a special register office. Before you'll be allowed to give notice, you must have been granted entry clearance to the UK specifically for the purpose of registering a civil partnership in the UK.

Everyone who wants to register a civil partnership in a register office must provide proof of their nationality. You can read more about forming a civil partnership if you or your partner is a foreign national on the UK government website. If the registrar believes that someone is entering into a civil partnership for immigration purposes, they must report this to UK Visas and Immigration.

If you're subject to immigration control and want to register a civil partnership, you may need to get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out where to get advice.

Same-sex partnerships formed overseas

Some same-sex couples may already have formed a same sex civil union abroad. If you're in this kind of relationship, you can get automatic recognition in the UK as civil partners and won't need to register in the UK as well. However, you, your partner and your overseas relationship must meet certain conditions. For example:

  • you must have the capacity to enter into the relationship
  • your civil partnership must meet the legal conditions in the country or territory in which it was formed.

Ending a registered civil partnership

Once you've registered a civil partnership, it can only be ended if one of you dies or by applying to court to bring the partnership to an end. Read more about ending a civil partnership.

Converting a civil partnership into marriage

It's possible for a couple to convert a qualifying civil partnership into a marriage. This can be done by a simple administrative process or by having a full marriage ceremony. The civil partnership will end on the conversion.

Differences between civil partnership and marriage

Civil partnership and marriage are almost identical, and civil partners have the same rights and responsibilities as married partners. However, civil partnership is only available to same-sex couples, whereas marriage is available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. There are also some very small procedural differences, for example civil partnerships are registered by signing the civil partnership schedule, with no words required to be spoken, whereas marriages are solemnised by saying a prescribed from of words.

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