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Opposite-sex Civil Partnership uptake

Becki Smith, Solicitor discusses the latest statistics on opposite-sex civil partnerships, highlighting the differences between civil partnership and…

In recent years we have seen a year on year increase in the number of same-sex civil partnerships formed in England and Wales and from 31 December 2019, as a result of legislation to extend civil partnership rights, it also became possible for two people of the opposite sex to enter into a civil partnership.

The Office for National Statistics has now revealed that there were 167 opposite-sex civil partnerships formed in England and Wales on that day alone. As a result, the Office for National Statistics has said that they expect to see further increases to the overall number of civil partnerships in England & Wales.

Other countries who introduced opposite-sex civil partnerships in the years before England & Wales have seen their popularity rise; an example being in the Netherlands where they were introduced in 1998, and such partnerships account for 23% of all opposite-sex unions.

Whilst the overall number of couples choosing marriage over civil partnership is significantly higher, there has been a fall in marriage numbers over the years. This, coupled with the rising number of civil partnerships, could be an indication of societal change.

With the impact of COVID-19 the statistics due for 2020 may not paint an accurate reflection of whether there has been a continued uptake in opposite-sex civil partnerships and therefore we may have to wait until 2021 to get a true idea as to how many opposite-sex couples are choosing to enter into a civil partnership as compared to marriage, but watch this space.

What is the difference between marriage and civil partnerships?

Fundamentally, and from a legal perspective, there are no major differences between civil partnerships and marriage. Civil partnerships give couples the same legal protections as marriage if the couple split up or in the event that one of them dies.

There are however some differences and in summary these main differences are:



Civil partnership

How to describe the relationship

Married couples cannot call themselves ‘civil partners’ for legal purposes.

Civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes.

How to enter into either civil partnership or marriage

Marriages are solemnized by saying a prescribed form of words.

Civil partnerships are registered by signing the civil partnership document, with no words required to be spoken.

Marriages can be conducted through a civil ceremony, or a religious ceremony (subject to provisos).

The formation of a civil partnership is an entirely civil event. Civil partners can choose to add a ceremony (religious or not) to follow the formation of their civil partnership.

Notice of marriage is given by each party in the registration district in which they have lived for the previous 7 days

Notice of civil partnership is given by each partner anywhere within the local authority in which they have lived for the previous 7 days.  

Marriages are registered on paper, in a hard copy register.

The details of civil partnerships are recorded in an electronic register.




Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties.

Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties.

Divorce / Dissolution

Also see * below

Marriage is ended by divorce, by obtaining a decree absolute.

Civil partnerships are ended by a dissolution order.

*There are also some variations of grounds to either annul or divorce the other party. A family lawyer can explain the differences, which relate to the reason given to the court for either the annulment or the divorce. There may also be some differences in State Pension provision.

For a more detailed analysis see our article on the differences between civil partnership and marriage.

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