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New ONS stats show civil partnerships growing in popularity for opposite-sex couples

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) released their annual statistics for 2020 on civil partnerships in England and Wales earlier this week, which provides a greater insight into the uptake for opposite-sex civil partners since the first ceremonies took place on 31 December 2019.

In accordance with the Civil Partnership (Opposite-Sex Couples) Regulations 2019, opposite-sex partners were able to give notice of their intention to register a civil partnership from 2 December 2019 and, following the requisite 28 day notice period, the first civil partnership ceremony took place on New Year’s Eve of that year. Since the Civil Partnership Act 2004, civil partnerships have been available to same-sex couples, so it’s refreshing for this option to be available to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

From the annual statistics for 2019, it appeared that opposite-sex partners had taken full advantage of the new law, with 167 opposite-sex civil partnerships being formed in England and Wales on 31 December 2019 alone. In 2020, 7,566 opposite-sex civil partnerships have been reported in England and Wales, of which, 7,208 were registered in England and 358 were registered in Wales.

The most recent data in relation to marriages is from 2018, but as a comparison, there were 234,795 marriages in England and Wales in 2018, of which, 227,870 were opposite-sex marriages. Marriage is therefore still the most popular option for opposite-sex couples but the ONS report demonstrates the growing popularity of civil partnerships with opposite-sex partners, now that there are options for couples intending to formalise their relationship. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues in 2021, or whether the figures this year are more reflective of the recent change in the law and we see the figures level out.

Interestingly, the numbers of same-sex civil partnerships have fallen and this latest report records the lowest number of same-sex civil partnerships for England since the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005, with only 785 civil partnerships formed between same-sex couples in England and Wales in 2020. In contrast, there were 6,925 marriages between same-sex couples in 2018.

Civil partners have the same rights, protections and recognition as married couples. In the event that civil partnerships don’t work out, much like the divorce process for married couples, a civil partnership can be ended by a dissolution order. The court can make the same provisions for financial relief upon dissolution as they can upon divorce. This means that financial remedies such as periodical payment orders (maintenance), lump sum orders, property adjustment orders and pension sharing orders are equally applicable to dissolution, as they are to divorce.

For couples looking to form a civil partnership, or those who have already formed one, it may be prudent to consider a pre-civil partnership agreement ("pre-cip") or post-civil partnership agreement (“post-cip”) to protect assets in the event of dissolution, or perhaps just give a degree of clarity as to what would happen to assets upon a breakdown of the partnership.

Looking in more detail at the demographics of those forming civil partnerships in 2020, the average age at civil partnership for opposite-sex couples was 58.9 years for men and 56.3 years for women. For same-sex couples, the average ages at civil partnership were lower, 49.8 years and 50.1 years respectively. As individuals entering into civil partnerships are more likely to be older, a “pre-cip” or “post-cip” may be wise, in order to protect assets built up prior to the civil partnership or to ring-fence assets for children.

The introduction of opposite sex civil partnerships was undoubtedly a defining moment for many couples, where there’s now a personal choice to how the law recognises the relationship. With these benefits and rights, come new complex legal issues. Any couple considering a civil partnership should ensure they fully understand the legal implications of entering into a civil partnership and the wider implications of formalising their relationship in this way.