By Hannah Braisted, solicitor in the Family Law team

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) released their annual statistics on civil partnerships in England and Wales this week, which for the first time, takes into account the impact of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 which were introduced in December last year.

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 Years Eve. The ONS report shows that there were 167 opposite-sex civil partnerships formed in England and Wales on 31 December 2019 alone.

Cohabiting couples have significantly less rights than married couples and the change in law gives opposite-sex civil partners the same rights, protections and recognition as married couples. It is clear that opposite-sex partners have taken full advantage of the new law and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2020. With these benefits and rights, comes new complex legal issues. Any couple considering a civil partnership would be well minded to seek legal advice so they are well informed of the possible situations that could occur.

Same-sex civil partnerships have also continued to rise, with a 4% increase from 2018. Looking in more detail at the demographics of those forming civil partnerships, the majority of same-sex civil partnerships in 2019 were between men and interestingly, half of all individuals forming a civil partnership were aged 50 years and over. The report suggests that the age distribution has changed noticeably since the introduction of same-sex marriages in 2014, and individuals entering same-sex civil partnerships are more likely to be older now.

With more and more couples looking to form civil partnerships, it would 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. The ONS report shows that there were 916 same-sex civil partnerships dissolutions granted in England and Wales in 2019. Much like the divorce process for married couples, a civil partnership can be ended by a dissolution order and there are provisions for financial relief upon dissolution. Financial remedies such as periodical payment orders, lump sum orders, property adjustment orders and pension sharing orders, are equally applicable to dissolution, as they are to divorce. It is therefore important to be aware of the effects of dissolution and plan accordingly.

The ONS report demonstrates the increase in popularity of civil partnerships and we can expect to see further increases in popularity in 2020, as more opposite-sex couples choose to become civil partners.