United Kingdom

The family and succession law of the territorial units of the United Kingdom each recognise two forms of couples' relations:

England and Wales:

  • MARRIAGE between persons of opposite and same sex

  • REGISTERED PARTNERSHIP CONVERTIBLE IN WEDDING between persons of opposite and same sex


  • MARRIAGE between persons of opposite and same sex


Northern Ireland:

  • MARRIAGE between persons of opposite sex

  • REGISTERED PARTNERSHIP between persons of same sex

Regarding family law in the UK, legislative and cultural differences can be found between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

England and Wales:

The common law is the basis of the legal system. Family law is found in acts of Parliament applied and interpreted by the higher courts to create a legal precedent: the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA 1973) as the main legislation relating to divorce and financial proceedings, the Married Women's Property Act 1882 (declaration of existing property rights), the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 (DMPA 1973) (jurisdiction disputes in the relevant jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Isle of Man), the Law on Marital and Family Acts 1984 (MFPA 1984), Part III (financial aid in England and Wales after a divorce abroad), the Family Law Act 1986 (FLA 1986) (competence and recognition of orders), the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA 2004) (allows same-sex couples to establish registered civil societies), the 2013 Marriage Law (homosexual) (M (SSC) A 2013) (allows same-sex couples to form marriages), and the 2019 law (civil partnerships, marriages and deaths (registration, etc.) (Allows couples of the opposite sex to join a registered partnership.

Northern Ireland:

The legal system largely reflects the system of England and Wales. However, as a separate jurisdiction, primary legislation on family law includes acts or (more frequently) orders within the Council supplemented by a delegated legislative corpus that includes statutory rules and regulations. Important statutes relating to family law in Northern Ireland are: the Decree of marriage and family (Northern Ireland), order 1989, the Family order (Northern Ireland), 1993, and the Family law (Northern Ireland) of 2001.


Scottish law is the legal system which has its own separate judicial system and its own jurisdiction. The fundamental laws on marriage and the family in Scotland are: the Divorce (Scotland) Act 1976 (Act of 1976), the Law on Marriage (Scotland) of 1977 and subsequent amendments, the Family law (Scotland) of 1985 (1985 act), the Regulation (EC) n. 2201/2003 concerning jurisdiction, the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and in matters of parental responsibility (Brussels II regulation), the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (act of 2004), the Family law (Scotland) 2006 (2006 act), the Law on Marriage and Civil Society (Scotland) 2014 which authorized marriage for same-sex couples in Scotland on 16 December 2014.

Currently, certain EU regulations are applicable; however, as soon as the UK leaves the EU, if no specific agreements are made, EU law will cease to apply. In this regard, the UK Government has introduced a series of statutory instruments to be applied in the hypothesis contemplated above, the most significant being the Jurisdiction Regulation and Judgments (Family) (Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) 2019, of 6 March 2019.



The general legal principles of family and succession law are equally applicable to spouses and registered partners, with particular exceptions in Northern Ireland. Unlike in other territorial units, in Northern Ireland a same-sex couple cannot marry. While in England and Wales both couples of the opposite sex and those of the same sex can form a civil partnership, in Scotland and Northern Ireland only same-sex couples can register a partnership. In Northern Ireland, unmarried partners have no right to inherit when the other partner dies without leaving a will. As for de facto cohabiting couples, two people who "live together as husband and wife", only a few limited rights are recognised.



Links to applicable regulations




  • With regard to the marital property regime there are differences among territories.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is no legal property regime between the spouses. Therefore, a marriage has no effect on the patrimonial relations between the spouses. Therefore, the rules of common law must be applied. Scotland has a peculiar legal property regime. In particular, a spouse has the right of occupation ex lege of the house used as a family home even if the other spouse is the only owner of the house; there is a principle of equitable sharing of matrimonial property. In essence, in Scotland it is assumed that household goods purchased for marriage or marriage are owned in equal shares, even if they have been purchased by a single spouse; a surviving spouse has certain rights protected in the event of the death of the other spouse and in the event of a will often take the entire estate. The matrimonial property contract is not allowed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while in Scotland the legislation expressly provides that any contract entered into by spouses in connection with a financial divorce provision will be legally binding unless it can be shown that the agreement was unfair and unreasonable at the time it was entered into. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland each of the spouses is responsible for their own debt. Therefore, only the property of the spouse who has contracted the debt can be used to satisfy a creditor's credit. In Scotland each spouse is responsible for his debts. Therefore, the creditors of each spouse can only use the property of that spouse to satisfy their claims. However, there are particular safeguards for the matrimonial home in bankruptcy legislation.

  • With regard to the division of property in the event of divorce, the Court may order a redistribution of assets, a maintenance payment and other measures, including the sale of goods.

In particular, the judge can also decide the redistribution of personal property acquired before the marriage, the inherited or received donation during the marriage and even the assets acquired after the end of the marriage. In Scotland the spouses have the right to reach an agreement on the division of property.

  • In the event of the death of one of the spouses in the United Kingdom, there are significant legislative and cultural differences between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In the absence of further heirs, the entire estate passes to the spouse or civil partner. In the presence of additional heirs, the surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to the personal property of the deceased. In the case of a will, there are no restrictions on the freedom to dispose of assets. However, certain family members and persons retained by the deceased may apply to the court to obtain the granting of financial services relating to the estate. In Scotland, in the event of a will, the surviving spouse or civil partner in the presence of children, is entitled to one third of the assets of the deceased; if there are no children, the spouse or civil partner is entitled to half the assets.



  • The general principles of the law regarding family and succession law are equally applicable to spouses and partners of registered partnerships.


Based on the national report prepared by Roberto Garetto, Federico Pascucci and Elisa Sgubin