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07 March 2023

2021 census data on marriage and civil partnership status

3 mins

The Office of National Statistics has issued the data from the 2021 consensus in respect of the status of marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales.

Some of the findings were:
  1. The proportion of adults who have never married or been in a civil partnership has increased by 11.6% over the past 20 years;  
  2. Less than half of the adult population (46.9%) are in a marriage or civil partnership;
  3. Over the past ten years, the proportion of adults who are divorced has risen by 0.1%;
  4. Adults who enter into same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are more likely to have higher level qualifications, when age is accounted for, than adults in opposite-sex marriages.

The report also found that the number of people getting married is at the lowest rate on record. Many couples now decide not to marry or enter into a civil partnership but are instead choosing to cohabit. There are many reasons why couples may choose to marry or enter into a civil partnership, such as religious, personal or financial reasons. Equally, there are many reasons why couples may not choose to marry or enter into a civil partnership. The progress in societal norms over the past 20 years (and more) is such that being unmarried is now more common than being married. Unfortunately, cohabiting couples are not afforded the same legal protection on a relationship breaking down as those couples who decide to marry or enter a civil partnership. The process of separating assets for cohabitants is difficult to navigate, particularly as different laws apply when the couple is not married or in a civil partnership, than when they are.

Looking at the 2021 census data, it shows that the divorce rate has not continued to escalate to the degree seen in the ten years prior. Between 1991 and 2011, the divorce rate increased by 2.9%; in 2021, the divorce rate had increased by a mere 0.1%. Whether or not this slowdown reflects the fact that less couples are choosing to marry, it does indicate that those who do marry are not significantly more likely to divorce than in 2011. You can read the report in full here.

If you are thinking of cohabiting with a partner, entering into a marriage or civil partnership, or find yourself in a situation where your relationship has broken down, seeking legal advice early on can be beneficial in navigating any difficult steps you may find yourself having to take now, or in the future. To get in touch with our Family and Matrimonial team, please call +44 20 7833 4433, or submit an enquiry form.

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