Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Living together and civil partnership: legal differences

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland.

This page is about the legal differences between civil partnership and living together. This information is for same-sex couples.

You can use this page to direct you to the key areas of law which are affected by living together and civil partnership.

Many of the areas covered here are complex and you may also require specialist advice, for example from a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out where to get advice.

Living together

There is no specific legal definition of living together, but it generally means living together as a couple without being in a civil partnership or married. Living together with someone is sometimes called cohabitation. In different areas of the law it means different things and gives different rights.

Cohabitation contracts

If you wish to formalise aspects of your status with a partner, you can draw up a cohabitation contract or living together agreement which outlines the rights and obligations you have towards each other.

A cohabitation contract may be difficult to enforce legally, particularly while you are still together. However a contract may be useful to remind you of your original intentions, or if you split up.

Civil partnership

A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people of the same sex. A civil partnership only exists once it is registered. Once registered, it confers the same rights and responsibilities as marriage.

Evidence of a civil partnership

You can prove that a civil partnership exists by:

  • a civil partnership certificate
  • a certified copy of an entry in the register of civil partnerships.

When does a civil partnership end

A civil partnership ends on the death of one partner or after a formal process called dissolution. Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in Scotland, it's also possible for a same-sex couple to convert an existing civil partnership to a marriage. The civil partnership ends on the conversion.

For more information on civil partnership, see Registering a civil partnership.

For more information on converting a civil partnership to a marriage, see Getting married.

Children

Parental responsibilities and rights

Living together

If you're a mother, you have full parental responsibilities and rights over your child, unless these have been removed by a court.

If you're a father, you do not have automatic parental responsibilities and rights towards your child unless you have jointly registered the birth of your child with the child’s mother since 4 May 2006. You will share these rights equally with the child’s mother. Alternatively, you acquire parental responsibilities and rights by making a formal agreement, called a parental responsibilities agreement. If your child’s mother does not agree, you can apply to court.

A same-sex partner has no automatic parental responsibilities and rights for their partner's children. However if a child is conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009, a same-sex partner can be the second legal parent.

Civil partnership

A civil partner does not have automatic parental rights over their partner’s children but has a general duty to safeguard the health and welfare of children under 16 who live in the household. If a child is conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009, a civil partner can be the second legal parent and have automatic parental responsibilities and rights towards the child.

Adoption

Living together

Same-sex couples who live together can adopt a child together.

Civil partnership

Civil partners can adopt a child together.

Money

Benefits and tax credits

Living together

A couple who live together are treated in the same way as civil partners for the purposes of assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits and tax credits. Your resources and requirements are jointly assessed. Entitlement to some benefits depends on whether you have paid enough national insurance contributions.

You can't get an increase for a partner who lives with you unless your partner is caring for children.

You can't claim bereavement benefits or a retirement pension based on your partner's national insurance contribution.

For more information about incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance, disability allowance and attendance allowance, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

Civil partnership

Civil partners are treated in the same way as any other couple who live together for the purposes of assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits and tax credits. Your resources and requirements are jointly assessed. Entitlement to some benefits depends on whether you have paid enough national insurance contributions.

Depending on the benefit, you might get more money for a dependent civil partner and, in some cases, for dependent children.

A surviving partner can claim bereavement benefits or, in some cases, a retirement pension based on a partner's national insurance contributions.

For more information about incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance, disability allowance and attendance allowance, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

Tax

Living together

When you live together, each partner is taxed separately. Each person is entitled to a personal allowance for the purposes of calculating how much income tax they must pay. If one partner gives assets to the other, capital gains tax may be due.

Civil partnership

Each partner in a civil partnership is treated separately for tax purposes. If one civil partner gives assets to the other, capital gains tax is not usually payable.

Pensions

Living together

The provision of occupational and personal pensions for dependants depends on the rules of the scheme. Most schemes offer benefits to dependent children and some will offer benefits to a dependent partner. Benefits should be available to same-sex partners, otherwise there may be unlawful discrimination.

Where a scheme is suitable for couples who live together, you will need to complete an 'expression of wishes' form, which indicates who benefits are paid to on your death.

A personal pension can be arranged to give cover to whoever you want, provided you can pay what may be large contributions to the pension fund.

You can't claim a state retirement pension based on your partner's national insurance contributions.

If you split from your partner, you have no automatic right to your partner's pension. You may have no automatic right to a partner's pension on death.

Civil partnership

By law, an occupational pension scheme must offer the same rights to a civil partner as to a married partner.

A private pension scheme which is contracted out of a state additional pension must offer the same rights to married partners as to civil partners, whenever the plan was taken out. The benefits accruing from the personal pension schemes which are not contracted out of an additional pension depend on the individual contract.

You may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your civil partner's national insurance contributions.

A civil partner is entitled to a share of an ex-partner's pension if the relationship is formally ended, for example by dissolution. If your civil partner dies, you may also be entitled to a share of an occupational or private pension.

Debts

Living together

Neither partner is liable for the other’s debts unless one acted as a guarantor for the other or agreed to a joint liability. However, your partner can be liable for debts relating to council tax or a social fund loan.

Civil partnership

Neither partner is liable for the other’s debts unless one acted as a guarantor for the other or agreed to a joint liability. However, a civil partner can be liable for debts relating to council tax or a social fund loan.

Student grants and loans

Living together

Your partner's income is taken into account for the purposes of deciding your eligibility for a student grant or loan.

Civil partnership

If the first year of your course started before December 2005, your civil partner's income will not be taken into account for the duration of your course in deciding your eligibility for a student grant.

If you started a course after August 2006, your civil partner's income will be taken into account in deciding your eligibility for a student grant or loan.

Relationship

Choice of surname

Living together

You may use any surname, including your partner's, provided no fraud is intended.

Civil partnership

You may use any surname, including your civil partner's, provided no fraud is intended.

Maintenance

Living together

You and your partner do not automatically have a duty to maintain each other financially when the relationship ends, unless you have an agreement to do so. However, one partner can apply to court (within 1 year of the relationship ending) for a limited financial settlement from their former partner. As a result, a court may decide that one party should pay the other a capital sum or make a payment in recognition of the costs of caring for any child of the relationship under the age of 16. The court will consider whether, as a result of decisions the couple made during their relationship, one partner has been financially disadvantaged. For example, if a couple had decided that one partner would give up a career to look after their children, the court will look at the effect that decision had on the partner’s ability to earn money after the relationship ended.

Civil partnership

Civil partners have an equal duty to maintain each other.

Next of kin

Living together

Next of kin is usually defined as the nearest relative by blood or marriage. You can argue that your partner should be accepted as next of kin but some organisations may not accept this.

Civil partnership

A civil partner is always acceptable as next of kin.

Sexual relationship

Living together

There is no legal assumption that two people who live together are having a sexual relationship. Demands for an unreasonable amount of intercourse may constitute domestic abuse. Read more about domestic abuse.

Civil partnership

The absence of a sexual relationship in a civil partnership may provide grounds for irretrievable breakdown of the civil partnership. However, any excessive or unreasonable demands from one partner could provide grounds for dissolution of the civil partnership on the basis of unreasonable behaviour.

Demands for an unreasonable amount of intercourse may also constitute domestic abuse. Read more about domestic abuse.

Domestic violence

Living together

You can go to court to apply for an order to legally protect yourself if your partner is violent. For more information, see Domestic abuse.

Civil partnership

You can go to court to apply for an order to legally protect yourself if your civil partner is violent. For more information, see Domestic abuse.

Ending a relationship

Living together

A couple who live together can separate informally without any need for a court to intervene.

Civil partnership

Civil partners can separate informally but will need to go to court to dissolve the civil partnership.

Possessions and gifts

Living together

If a couple split up and they disagree about who owns possessions, any household goods (except money, securities, vehicles or pets) which were bought or acquired while they lived together are presumed to be owned equally. Goods acquired before this time belong to the person who acquired them. Gifts or inherited goods belong to the person who received them.

Civil partnership

If civil partners split up and they disagree about who owns possessions, any goods bought or acquired during the civil partnership are presumed to be owned jointly. Gifts and inherited goods belong to the person who received them. Goods acquired before the civil partnership belong to the person who acquired them.

Housing

Tenants

Living together

A partner who is not a tenant has no rights to remain in the home if the tenant withdraws permission for them to stay. The non-tenant can apply to the court for the right to remain in the home. However, if both partners moved in together, it may be possible to prove that there is a joint tenancy. If the sole tenant leaves the property, the other partner has no rights to stay unless they have been granted occupancy rights by the court before the tenant leaves.

From 1 November 2019 in a Scottish secure tenancy, if one person is the sole tenant and the couple want to change the tenancy to a joint tenancy, the proposed joint tenant must have lived at the property as their only or principal home for the 12 months before the sole tenant applies for them to become a joint tenant. The 12 months only starts to run when the landlord is notified of them living in the home.

You may have different rights if your partner has been violent towards you. Read more about domestic abuse.

Civil partnership

Both civil partners have a right to remain in the home, regardless of whose name is on the tenancy agreement, unless a court has ordered otherwise.

From 1 November 2019 in a Scottish secure tenancy, if one person is the sole tenant and the couple want to change the tenancy to a joint tenancy, the proposed joint tenant must have lived at the property as their only or principal home for the 12 months before the sole tenant applies for them to become a joint tenant. The 12 months only starts to run when the landlord is notified of them living in the home.

Owner-occupiers

Living together

A partner who is not a joint owner has no right to remain in the home if the owner withdraws permission for them to stay. They can apply to the court for the right to remain in the home.

A partner who is not the owner cannot stop the sale of the house but may apply for a limited right to remain in the home. They are not entitled to a share of the proceeds unless they are a joint owner or can show a financial contribution.

You may have different rights if your partner has been violent towards you. Read more about domestic abuse.

Civil partnership

Both civil partners have a right to remain in the home unless a court has ordered otherwise.

If the home is sold, a civil partner usually has the right to continue to live in it unless they have agreed to the sale. They are not entitled to a share of the proceeds unless they are a joint owner. They may be able to claim a share in a settlement on the dissolution of a civil partnership.

Death of a partner

Inheritance

Living together

If your partner dies without leaving a will, their estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. You will not automatically inherit unless, as a couple, you owned property jointly. You can apply to court (within 6 months of your partner dying) for a share of your deceased partner’s estate. However, if you are living together, you both need to make wills if you wish to ensure that you can inherit from each other.

Civil partnership

If your civil partner dies without leaving a will, you will get the home, contents and part of the remaining estate.

If your civil partner leaves a will which leaves little or nothing to you, you can claim legal rights to part of the estate.

Living together

Your partner’s income and capital are taken into account for the purposes of assessing your eligibility for legal aid, unless you are taking legal action against each other.

Civil partnership

Your civil partner’s income and capital is taken into account for the purposes of assessing your eligibility for legal aid, unless you are taking legal action against each other.

Witnesses

Living together

Your partner can be called as a witness for or against you in both civil and criminal proceedings and can be compelled to appear and give evidence.

Civil partnership

Your civil partner can be called as a witness for or against you in both civil and criminal proceedings and can be compelled to appear and give evidence. However, if your civil partner is a co-accused in criminal proceedings, they cannot be compelled to give evidence.

Did this advice help?
Why wasn't this advice helpful?
Did this advice help?

Thank you, your feedback has been submitted.