August 3, 2012

Keeping it civil –partnerships prove hugely popular

By Fiona Kendall, Partner

Here at Jones Myers this week we welcomed the news that civil partnerships have proven to be five times more popular than expected, with over 106,000 people entering into a civil partnership since they became legal in 2005.

It was expected that no more than 11,000 or so couples would take the plunge in the first five years but the popularity of civil partnerships has far exceeded official expectations – emphasising that these relationships have a key part to play in society.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed same-sex couples in the UK to register their relationships for the first time. People who enter civil partnerships get a package of rights and responsibilities akin to those enjoyed by spouses, including on tax and benefits. They may apply for parental responsibility in respect of their partner’s children and for the full range of financial orders available to married couples on divorce. In other words, should the relationship break down, the same factors which influence how finance is settled on divorce will influence a financial settlement for civil partners.

After an initial peak of 16,100 civil partnerships in 2006, the first full year they were legal, annual figures have been between 6,000 and 7,000 couples with a six per cent increase last year. This might appear low when compared to the 241,000 marriages in England and Wales in 2010– a number which increased by 3.7 percent from 2009 – but in fact represents a significant and consistent level of demand for civil partnerships.

There were slightly more male partnerships last year: 3,351 compared with 3,444 female. One interesting observation is that the average age for entering a civil partnership is over 40 for men and 38 for women – nearly a decade later than the average ages for marriage of 32 and 30 respectively. Some sources expect future statistics to be even higher after Theresa May lifted the ban on religious buildings being permitted to host civil ceremonies in England and Wales. Although the plans were announced last February the legislation was only implemented in December after public consultation – and the first ceremony of this type only took place in May. As the option for religious buildings to host civil partnership ceremonies is just that – an option – it remains to be seen how much effect this will have on the figures.

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, the growth in civil partnerships means that the number of dissolutions is also rising with 962 in 2011 – an increase of 28% over the previous year. This is a significant proportion of the partnerships which have been formalised in the last five years. It will be very interesting to see if, long term, the figures fall in line with those for marriage/divorce or provide us with a fascinating social contrast.

Suffice to say that Jones Myers’ team of legal experts can advise on constructive resolution of issues arising from any relationship breakdown – whether marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation. We can advise on pre-nuptial agreements, help couples through divorce or dissolution and also help them to avoid the trauma of court to resolve financial issues, through mediation and collaborative family law. Contact us for more details.

What do you think about civil partnerships? Let us know below, drop us a Tweet @helpwithdivorce or call us on 0113 246 0055.