Following a consultation process that saw Scottish Ministers consider whether to scrap Civil partnerships ('CPs') completely or open them to all couples, they unanimously decided on the latter.

From 28 July this year, the law in Scotland changed to allow mixed sex couples to enter into a CP in a move that provides greater equality of choice for all couples. Prior to the Act coming into force, only same sex couples could enter into CPs. The Act brings Scotland in line with other similar jurisdictions, such as England, Wales, Northern Ireland and New Zealand.

What's the difference between a CP and a civil marriage? 

For all intents and purposes, in law, aside from a couple of technical distinctions, there is no significant difference. Formation of a CP is finalised on the signing of a document whereas marriage requires a verbal exchange (vows). Differences in the grounds for dissolution of a CP as opposed to grounds for a divorce are unlikely to have a practical impact on separating couples. Identical legal status is conferred on parties to a CP as it is on parties to a marriage in all key areas: separation; reproduction; children; and largely succession too (with the exception of certain pension entitlements). For some though, it is about choice. Marriage can be perceived as having 'religious or patriarchal' connotations and the freedom to choose not to enter a marriage and instead enter a CP is an important one.

Secondary legislation is anticipated later this year to deal with practical measures to allow mixed sex couples to begin entering CPs. At this stage it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant increase in couples opting in favour of a CP rather than a marriage.

The first report on the figures of marriages and CPs registered during the pandemic was published this week. The figures do not yet account for mixed sex CPs. There has been a sharp dip in the number of unions solemnised which may be due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those figures may now see a sharp increase due to the change in the law and the gradual easing of pandemic restrictions.