1. Methodology background


 National Statistic   
 Frequency  Annual
 Data collection  Administrative data
 Geographic coverage  England and Wales
 Data source  Based on third-party data
 Contact  vsob@ons.gov.uk
 Last revised  16 August 2018
 Related publications  Civil Partnerships in England and Wales

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2. Important points about civil partnership statistics

  • Civil partnership formation statistics are derived from information recorded when civil partnerships are registered as part of civil registration; these data represent the legal record, making them the most complete data source.

  • Figures represent civil partnerships formed in England and Wales only, figures are available back to 2005; civil partnership formations to residents of England and Wales which take place abroad are not included.

  • Civil partnership dissolution statistics are derived from information recorded by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) during the dissolution process, figures include annulments.

  • Our dissolution statistics are available back to 2007, they do not include couples who separate but do not dissolve their civil partnership.

  • Dissolutions where the civil partnership formation took place abroad are included provided the civil partnership was legally recognised in the UK and one of the parties had a permanent home in England and Wales.

  • Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) publish regular civil partnership formation and dissolution statistics for Northern Ireland; National Records of Scotland and Scottish Government publish regular civil partnership and dissolutions statistics respectively for Scotland.

  • Statistics on marriages of same-sex couples which have been possible in England and Wales since 29 March 2014 are published in our annual Marriages in England and Wales release from the 2014 data year onwards.

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3. Overview of the output

Civil partnership statistics present data on civil partnership formations and dissolutions which took place in England and Wales. Civil partnership formation statistics are produced by age, sex, previous marital status and area of formation. Civil partnership dissolution statistics are produced by age at dissolution, sex, and previous marital status. Civil partnership dissolution statistics are only available for England and Wales as a whole; no sub-national breakdown is possible.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005 in the UK; the first day couples could give notice of their intention to form a civil partnership. The Act enabled same-sex couples aged 16 years and over to obtain legal recognition of their relationship. The first day that couples could form a partnership was 21 December 2005 in England and Wales. A small number of civil partnerships were formed under special arrangements before these dates.

Coverage of the annual civil partnership statistics was altered from UK to England and Wales only for the 2014 data year onwards. This alteration comes after respondents to the civil partnership consultation almost unanimously supported the proposal for changing coverage to allow for more timely civil partnership statistics for England and Wales.

Summary figures for the UK continue to be published in the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables. Civil partnership formation statistics for Scotland are published by National Records of Scotland while dissolution statistics are published by Scottish Government. Civil partnership formations and dissolution statistics for Northern Ireland are published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Marriage for same-sex couples has only been possible in England and Wales since 29 March 2014. Same-sex couples have been able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage and individuals in a marriage or a civil partnership have been able to change their gender without first needing to divorce or dissolve the civil partnership since 10 December 2014. These conversions are not included in our marriage statistics but are reported separately within our marriages release. Statistics on marriages of same-sex couples are published separately in our annual Marriages in England and Wales release from the 2014 data year onwards. Following the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples it remains possible for same-sex couples to choose to form a civil partnership instead.

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4. Output quality

This report provides a range of information that describes the quality of the data and details any points that should be noted when using the output.

We have developed Guidelines for measuring statistical quality; these are based upon the five European Statistical System (ESS) Quality Dimensions. This report addresses these quality dimensions and other important quality characteristics, which are:

  • relevance

  • timeliness and punctuality

  • coherence and comparability

  • accuracy

  • output quality trade-offs

  • assessment of user needs and perceptions

  • accessibility and clarity

More information is provided about these quality dimensions in sections five to ten.

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5. About the output

Relevance

(The degree to which statistical outputs meet users’ needs in terms of content and coverage.)

Civil partnership formation and dissolution statistics report figures relating to the previous calendar year. Some charts report measures back to 2005, when civil partnerships were introduced.

We use marriage, divorce and civil partnership statistics to:

  • report on social and demographic trends

  • analyse and report on trends following policy change, for example the uptake of marriages of same-sex couples and the impact on civil partnership formations

  • perform further analyses, for example comparing trends in divorce with civil partnership dissolution, and estimating the proportion of marriages which end in divorce

In 2014, all relationship support policy was brought under the remit of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). At the same time, every government department was made accountable for the impact of their policies on the family. In the November 2017 Budget, the Government announced £15 million to continue DWP’s relationship support work to help keep families together and reduce parental conflict.

DWP uses marriage and divorce data in dynamic simulation models covering pension-age populations to model pensioner incomes, as well as entitlement to state pensions and pension-age benefits. This involves modelling whole life courses, including the formation of partnerships (marriage, civil partnership and cohabitation) and dissolution of the same partnerships.

Also in 2014, the Government reviewed survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes in accordance with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The Government Actuary's Department (GAD) used our data to estimate the cost of requiring pension schemes to equalise benefits for same-sex partners with opposite-sex partners. On occasion GAD are asked to provide estimates of costs in relation to pension schemes (often for government departments). In the absence of pension scheme data, our statistics are often used to inform the assumption setting process.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) takes the lead on civil partnership policy and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Civil partnership formation and dissolution statistics are used to inform policy making. GEO monitor data on civil partnership statistics for future policy considerations.

Academics and researchers use marriage, divorce and civil partnership data for research into family change and assessing the implications of marriage and divorce trends for care, the impact on childbearing, housing, and finances in later life or old age.

Lawyers, solicitors and those involved in family law use marriage, divorce and civil partnership data to comment on trends in case law and predict likely future trends in legal business (for example divorce cases, inheritance).

Businesses involved in marriages or civil partnerships, such as hotels, catering businesses, bridal shops, wedding planners and civil partnership celebration planners, use marriage and civil partnership statistics by area to assess their market share of business and for marketing and commercial planning.

Organisations covering gay and lesbian rights and equality issues, for example, Stonewall, use civil partnership statistics to support their campaigns and pass on the data to their own users. The Centre for Social Justice regularly publishes reports on family policy which use our marriage, divorce or civil partnership figures.

Timeliness and punctuality

(Timeliness refers to the lapse of time between publication and the period to which the data refer. Punctuality refers to the gap between planned and actual publication dates.)

The annual release of civil partnership figures is announced on the GOV.UK release calendar at least four weeks in advance.

Figures are published around six to seven months after the end of the data year. The release is considered timely and users are happy with the quality of the data available on the website.

During quality assurance work prior to the 2007 release, a number of duplicate dissolution records were observed in the dataset. Following comparison with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, it was also found that some dissolution records were missing from our dataset. As a result, the first civil partnership dissolution statistics were not published in the 2007 civil partnerships release in June 2008 as originally planned. The new statistics were checked against manual records retained by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and MoJ to ensure they met the required quality standards. The figures were later released in August 2008 alongside the divorces release. A further set of procedures for quality assurance were set up to prevent any future problems.

From the 2013 data year onwards, dissolution data have been extracted from the HMCTS case management system and sent to us electronically. The publication of Civil Partnerships in England and Wales 2014 was later than originally planned as changing to electronic receipt of data required more time to be spent on quality assurance. Prior to the 2013 data year, civil partnership dissolution statistics for England and Wales were derived from data provided on dissolution forms sent to us by the courts.

For more details on related releases, the GOV.UK release calendar is available online and provides 12 months’ advance notice of release dates. In the unlikely event of a change to the pre-announced release schedule, public attention will be drawn to the change and the reasons for the change will be explained, as set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

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6. How the output is created

Civil partnership formation statistics for England and Wales are based on details collected when a civil partnership is formed. Civil partnerships formed in England and Wales are recorded on the Registration Online (RON) system by registrars. All civil partnerships must be entered onto this system as it forms the legal record. Every night, civil partnership formation records are transferred from RON into our Life Events Continuity (LEC) database. The information used by us for civil partnership formation statistics is taken directly from the LEC server.

An extract of annual formations data is taken between April and May each year. As civil partnership formation data are timely, all the records for the preceding year should be on the system by this time. Quality assurance work is then conducted on this dataset and any queries with the data are sent to the General Register Office (GRO) and records are amended if necessary. Our published datasets are then created.

A very small number of civil partnership formation records for England and Wales can be received later than the date on which our annual dataset was taken. These records are not included in published figures. For example, civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2017, but received after 25 April 2018 are not included in the 2017 statistics. The impact of this is negligible.

To obtain a civil partnership dissolution in England and Wales, a couple must have been in either a registered civil partnership or a recognised foreign relationship for 12 months. Civil partnership dissolutions which take place in England and Wales are recorded by the courts and these data are shared with us. Annulments can take place any time after the formation ceremony and are included in the dissolution figures.

From 2013 onwards, civil partnership dissolution data have been extracted from the HMCTS FamilyMan case management system and sent to us electronically. Prior to 2013, civil partnership dissolution statistics for England and Wales were derived from data provided on the D106 civil partnership dissolution form sent to us by the courts.

For dissolutions, checks are carried out quarterly and annually before the annual dataset is finalised. Once all checks have been completed, the data tables are created.

Following a consultation surrounding the population estimates by marital status in summer 2014, there was a change in the methodology used to produce the estimates for England and Wales, for the years 2002 onwards. The new method involves using the marital status distribution from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and applying this to published population estimates (by five-year age group and sex) for England and Wales. Annex B in the consultation response document provides more information on the new methodology. Population estimates by marital status and living arrangements for the years 2002 to 2010 were revised and published in July 2015 alongside new population estimates by marital status for the years 2011 to 2014.

As a result of the change in methodology, population estimates for civil partners are now available, enabling the calculation of civil partnership dissolution rates for England and Wales. The civil partnership rate is the number of people forming a civil partnership per 1,000 unmarried population aged 16 and over (unmarried means single, widowed or divorced).

The latest available population estimates by marital status are used in the calculation of civil partnership formation and dissolution rates. Formation and dissolution rates are published for England and Wales (combined) in the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables.

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7. Validation and quality assurance

Accuracy

(The degree of closeness between an estimate and the true value.)

Our civil partnership formation statistics use data taken directly from the Registration Online (RON) system. The RON entry is the legal record for a civil partnership. The General Register Office (GRO) maintains the system and ensures that all civil partnerships that have taken place are entered onto RON, the data on the records are complete and any amendments are updated on the system. A Superintendent Registrar quality assures registered civil partnerships for each quarter. It is therefore the most complete dataset available for civil partnership formations in England and Wales.

Once we extract an annual formations dataset, a number of quality assurance checks are performed. These include frequency checks and comparisons with previous years’ data as well as a check for duplicates. Checks are also carried out to look for inconsistencies within the dataset to ensure there are minimal internal errors, and statistical analysis is used to look at trends in the figures by registration authority over time.

Once the dataset for formations has been extracted and quality assured, anything which looks unusual is reported back to GRO for further investigation. Any issues are resolved before the dataset is finalised.

We conduct quality assurance tasks on dissolutions data throughout the year in preparation for the release of annual figures. These include:

  • completeness checks, to ensure all dissolution records have been received from HMCTS

  • inconsistency checks within the dataset to ensure minimal internal errors

  • frequency checks and comparisons with previous years’ data

Coherence and comparability

(Coherence is the degree to which data that are derived from different sources or methods, but refer to the same topic, are similar. Comparability is the degree to which data can be compared over time and domain, for example, geographic level.)

Time series data are available on a comparable basis back to 2005 for formations and 2007 for dissolutions.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced for the whole of the UK, making the statistics from the different countries within the UK comparable. We publish statistics for the whole of the UK with breakdowns for each constituent country in the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables, enabling easy comparisons.

Formation figures for England and Wales are based on date of formation (the date on which the civil partnership took place) whereas figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland are based on date of registration (the date on which the civil partnership is registered by the registrar: this date may be the same as the date of formation or a slightly later date). This is noted in the information section of the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables. The impact on statistics is negligible.

From the 2017 data year, mean and median ages at both formation and dissolution for England and Wales are based on integer (whole number) ages. Mean and median ages at formation had previously been calculated on the basis of full age, which includes the number of months, until 2016 and at dissolution until 2012. The mean and median ages at marriage and divorce are calculated using integer ages so this change brings consistency between all these releases. When using integer ages to calculate mean and median ages, the mean is calculated using integer ages plus 0.5 to estimate exact age, while medians are calculated by interpolating integer ages.

Prior to 2015 data year, the tables published for civil partnerships were based on existing or similar marriage and divorce tables and so it was easy for users to compare civil partnership formation and marriage statistics and civil partnerships dissolution and divorce statistics.

Comparisons are possible with survey data containing estimates of the numbers of civil partners within England and Wales, but it must be noted that these figures are not directly comparable as they are estimates of the current number of civil partners rather than the number of civil partnerships which took place during a particular year. Civil Partnerships Five Years On compares estimates of the number of men and women living in a civil partnership derived from registration data, the Annual Population Survey and the Labour Force Survey for 2006 to 2010.

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8. Concepts and definitions

(Concepts and definitions describe the legislation governing the output and a description of the classifications used in the output.)

With the implementation of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came legislation not only on the formation of civil partnerships but also on their dissolution. The only possible ground for dissolution of a civil partnership is that the partnership has broken down irretrievably. In order to establish irretrievable breakdown, the civil partner applying for the dissolution must satisfy the court of one or more of the following:

  • behaviour by one civil partner which means that the other cannot reasonably be expected to live with them

  • separation for two years with consent

  • separation for five years

  • desertion of one party by the other for a period of two years

Unlike divorce, adultery is not recognised as a ground for dissolution as the legal definition of adultery involves two adults of opposite-sex. However, unfaithfulness may be recognised as a form of unreasonable behaviour.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013. The Act enabled same-sex couples to get married in England and Wales from 29 March 2014, either in a civil ceremony or on religious premises (provided that the religious organisation concerned is in agreement with the marriage being solemnised through a religious ceremony). From 10 December 2014, civil partners have been able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage, if they so desire, and individuals in a marriage or a civil partnership have been able to change their gender without first needing to divorce or dissolve the civil partnership. The Act does not remove the availability of civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) carried out a review of the future of civil partnerships in England and Wales, including a full public consultation which ran between 23 January and 17 April 2014. They received over 10,000 responses to the consultation. Several important organisations thought it was too soon to consider making changes to civil partnership legislation - this should wait until the impact of extending marriage to same-sex couples was known. Other organisations, in contrast, put forward a case for opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, for example because civil partnership and marriage were different relationships and all couples should have equal access to both. Given the lack of consensus on the way forward, the Government decided not to make any changes to the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

The government has committed to undertake further work to inform a decision on the future of civil partnerships and set out its plans in The Future Operation of Civil Partnership: Gathering Further Information command paper that was published on 10 May 2018. It has been looking at the available data on the take-up of civil partnerships and marriage amongst same-sex couples and intends to address the difference in treatment of same and opposite-sex couples as soon as possible.

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9. Other information

Output quality trade-offs

(Trade-offs are the extent to which different dimensions of quality are balanced against each other.)

There are sometimes blank fields in the dissolution records, in particular missing age and previous legal status. Prior to the 2013 data year, we used the corresponding formation record to obtain the missing data fields where possible as it would have taken time to collect the missing data from individual courts. From the 2013 data year onwards, any missing age or previous legal status are shown in datasets as “not stated”.

Assessment of user needs and perceptions

(The processes for finding out about uses and users, and their views on the statistical products.)

User feedback is requested at the bottom of all emails sent by the customer service team within the Vital Statistics Output Branch (VSOB).

We ran a public consultation on user requirements for marriage, divorce and civil partnership statistics for England and Wales from 8 October 2013 to 17 December 2013. We published a report summarising the consultation responses (PDF 101KB).

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10. Sources for further information or advice

Accessibility and clarity

(Accessibility is the ease with which users are able to access the data, also reflecting the format in which the data are available and the availability of supporting information. Clarity refers to the quality and sufficiency of the release details, illustrations and accompanying advice.)

Our recommended format for accessible content is a combination of HTML web pages for narrative, charts and graphs, with data being provided in usable formats such as CSV and Excel. We also offer users the option to download the narrative in PDF format. In some instances other software may be used, or may be available on request. Available formats for content published on the our website but not produced by us, or referenced on our website but stored elsewhere, may vary. For further information please contact vsob@ons.gov.uk.

For information regarding conditions of access to data, please refer to the links below:

Special extracts and tabulations of civil partnership data for England and Wales are available to order (subject to legal frameworks, disclosure control, resources and our charging policy, where appropriate). Enquiries should be made to Vital Statistics Outputs Branch via email to vsob@ons.gov.uk or telephone: +44 (0)1329 444110. We also publish user requested data.

Useful links

More data on Civil Partnerships in England and Wales are available.

Annual civil partnership figures for the UK and constituent countries can be found in the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables.

National Records of Scotland provides civil partnership formation statistics for Scotland.

Scottish Government provides civil partnership dissolution statistics for Scotland.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency provides civil partnership statistics for Northern Ireland.

Further statistics on marriages (including marriages of same-sex couples) and divorces, are available on our website, as are data on families and households, including cohabitation figures.

Population estimates by marital status provide the estimated population by age group, sex and marital status (single, married, civil partnered, divorced, and widowed) for England and Wales.

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