Civil Partnerships: Practicality Or ‘Princess For A Day’? 

Published on 12 December, 2022 | Claire Reid

Flicking through the Christmas television schedules, it’s impossible to ignore how many of the movies listed are laced with more than a smattering of romance.

However, as much as we might be seduced by Hollywood’s often rose-tinted version of what it means to be in a couple, reality – especially at the moment – is rather different.

These current, straitened times are a challenge for couples across the country.

With the recession likely to impair business and job prospects, household finances are going to be subject to a severe squeeze in the coming months and years.

Just as couples in failing marriages sometimes find themselves wondering if divorce is practical during an economic downturn, so individuals wanting to legally commit to one another are forced to give a second thought to the cost of a wedding when money is tight.

That’s not just a consideration for younger couples. Men and women in middle-age will also weigh up the necessity of a day of celebration for themselves, their family and friends, albeit – I reckon – for slightly different reasons.

It is something which I’ve found myself thinking about having read the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) about civil partnerships (

On the face of it, the numbers don’t appear to shed much light on what’s happening in the nation’s homes.

In 2021, there were 6,731 civil partnerships in England and Wales – down almost one-fifth on the year before.

The ONS attributes that to the lingering effect of restrictions designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The previous year, of course, was the first full year in which opposite sex couples were able to establish relationships on a basis which, since 2004, had only been open to their same-sex counterparts.

Three years ago this month, however, the first opposite sex couples capitalised on new regulations introduced by the Government.

They, in turn, followed a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that permitting only same-sex civil partnerships was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (

If we look closely at the new ONS figures, certain interesting things emerge.

More than half of the opposite sex civil partnerships in 2021 involved couples over the age of 50.

Furthermore, about one-third of all opposite sex civil partnerships featured men and women who had either been married or in a previous such relationship.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you reading this are now scratching your heads as to why that should be the case.

After all, the division of joint assets after a failed civil partnership is the same as it would be for a marriage.

It is not, as some have described cohabitation, ‘marriage-light’. Rather, it effectively amounts to marriage by another name.

I think what it comes down to is civil partners demonstrating the kind of practicality which will serve couples in all kinds of relationships well at the moment.

Perhaps having been through a marriage which began with a lavish wedding, they understand that a big party does not have any bearing on their chances of remaining together into the long-term.

Given that one recent estimate suggested that the average cost of a wedding in the UK was £17,300 (, the life experience acquired by older civil partners might suggest that money could be put to better use.

They may think about how that sum is roughly half the average deposit required to buy a home, for instance (

Having said all that, there are certain differences in the ONS’ data which bear additional scrutiny.

The apparent common positive attitude of men and women over 65 towards civil partnerships starts to strain when we reach pension age.

At that point, it’s men more than women – almost eight per cent more men than women, in fact – who favour civil partnerships.

It could be that the women concerned – some of whom might not have married before – cling to the dream of being a princess for a day and enjoying a big wedding rather than a low-key event.

Just like some of those settling in front of the television to watch a love story over the festive period, it can be hard to ignore the pull of romance entirely.

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