Humanist marriages least likely to end in divorce, official statistics reveal

10 March, 2019

Photo credit: Ross Holkham Photography

Couples married in a humanist ceremony are almost four times less likely to divorce compared with all other types of marriages, according to new official statistics on marriage and divorce data in Scotland released today. The data comes as a new poll, also released today, shows clear majority support and growing demand for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales.

Divorce rates in Scotland

The new official statistics on Scottish divorces were obtained by Humanists UK through a freedom of information request. The data covers all divorces in 2017-18 split into civil, humanist, Church of Scotland, Catholic, and other type of religious marriages. By comparing these figures to existing statistics on number of marriages, it’s possible to calculate the divorce rate for each group.

In all cases, couples who had a humanist marriage were the least likely to divorce – and by a significant margin. Overall, looking at marriages within the last fifteen years, 0.25% of couples who had a humanist marriage got divorced in 2017-18, compared to 0.84% of all other couples. This stark difference remains regardless of duration of marriage.

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Strong and growing demand for legal recognition in England and Wales

Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland since 2005 but are still not recognised in England and Wales. Today also sees the release of a new YouGov poll which shows that nearly 70% of the British public support legal recognition being extended to England and Wales as well. Humanists UK says the findings strongly support the case for extending legal recognition and puts pressure on the UK Government to urgently extend the right to access humanist marriage in England and Wales.

The YouGov poll found nearly seven in ten adults (68%) in England and Wales support legal recognition of humanist marriages in these countries. This is a higher level of support compared to when a similar question asked in 2013 (52% support). The strong support is found across religion or belief groups, while just over one in ten (13%) are opposed.

Support is consistent across religion and belief groups. 79% of those with no religion are in favour, as are 56% of Anglicans, 60% of Catholics, and 71% of ‘other Christians’ and 55% of ‘other religions’.

The ‘2013’ and ‘2018’ overall figures are for all English and Welsh adults. The breakdown by denomination is British adults.

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Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘These figures show what a good start for couples a humanist wedding can be. Humanist weddings are deeply personal, with a unique ceremony crafted for each couple by a celebrant that gets to know them well and ensures that their script and vows reflect precisely who they are and the commitment they are making to each other. They are highly meaningful occasions and are increasingly popular.

‘It is no wonder that the public is so strongly in favour of legal recognition for our weddings in England and Wales. The UK Government has the power in law to do this immediately and should get on and do it. Their persistent and completely inexplicable failure to act is doing nothing other than preventing happiness and the improvement of individual lives and of society.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Gordon MacRae commented: ‘Scotland should be proud of leading the way in allowing freedom for couples to choose a humanist marriage. In 2005 there was opposition in Scotland to allowing couples the choice of a humanist ceremony as a “passing fad”. The growth in popularity that now sees Humanist Society Scotland celebrants officiate more marriages than the Church of Scotland has closed any such claim.

‘These new government statistics on divorce also reveal that humanist marriages are the most likely to result in a couple staying together. Humanist ceremonies have a clear focus on the the people at the heart of the relationship and their own personal commitments.’

Zena Birch, a Humanists UK celebrant, said: ‘I’ve conducted weddings for over 260 couples and I’m still in touch with almost all of them. In eight years, I have only learned of three divorces. The low divorce rate for humanist marriages may well be because of the reflection and consideration that couples having these ceremonies put into preparing their wedding day. Humanist wedding ceremonies look at the reason behind choosing to get married and how to create a solid, thought-through foundation.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

About humanist marriages

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, and conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values. Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005, and have risen in number from 85 in the first year to almost 7,000 in 2017 – some 20% of the total. Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than the Church of Scotland or any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2017 around eight percent of legal marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

More recently humanist marriages became legal in Northern Ireland in August, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages in July, with the first ones expected to be performed in due course, and Guernsey is currently considering doing the same thing.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have non-legal humanist wedding ceremonies, but such ceremonies cannot at present carry legal recognition, without the couple also going through the time and expense of having a civil marriage as well. Humanists UK believes this is unfair, and since religious marriages do carry such recognition, discriminatory. But the recognition in Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Jersey, and the ongoing proposals in Guernsey, surely means that the prospects of legal recognition in England and Wales, too, should become much more likely. Since 2013 humanist marriages have been on the statute books in England and Wales, but the UK Government hasn’t chosen to enact the relevant statute.

The Government recently announced a review of the law around marriage venues in England and Wales. It is presently unclear whether this review will include humanist marriages, but Humanists UK sees no good reason as to why humanist marriages need another review. Instead Humanists UK is asking the Government to urgently bring about legal recognition.

About the research into divorces

Read the new research into divorces:

The data on divorce rates by type of marriage and duration was obtained through a freedom of information request submitted by Humanists UK to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The divorce rate was then calculated by comparing the number of divorces with the number of marriages that occurred each year. Marriage figures are published by National Records of Scotland.

For marriages which lasted between one and five years, 0.73% of civil marriages ended in divorce, as did 0.58% of Church of Scotland, 0.56% of Roman Catholic, 0.49% of ‘other religion’ and just 0.17% of humanist. For marriages which lasted between five and ten years, 1.24% of civil marriages, 0.68% of Church of Scotland, 0.9% of Roman Catholic, 1.08% of ‘other religion’, and 0.46% of humanist marriages ended in divorce. For marriages which lasted between ten and 15 years, 0.94% of civil marriages, 0.56% of Church of Scotland, 0.86% of Roman Catholic, 0.76% of ‘other religion’, and just 0.27% of humanist marriages end in divorce.

About the poll

Read the newly published YouGov results, and the previous survey:

The new poll ran on 19-20 November and asked 2,038 British adults (of whom 1,858 were from England and Wales), ‘In the UK, both civil marriages (i.e. without a religious ceremony, held in a licensed venue such as a registry office, hotel etc.) and religious marriages (i.e. based on someone’s religious beliefs, typically held in a place of worship) are legally recognised forms of marriage. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, humanist marriages are also legally recognised. Humanist marriages are non-religious, can take place in any location chosen by the couple (i.e. it doesn’t have to be a licensed venue), and the ceremony can be more personalised to match the wishes of the couple (i.e. there is more flexibility over the structure of the ceremony). In England and Wales, humanist marriages are not legally recognised. To what extent would you support or oppose humanist marriages being legally recognised in England and Wales?’ It found 69% in support of reform, 12% opposed, and 19% saying they didn’t know. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all British adults aged 18+.

These figures stand at 68% support and 13% oppose, amongst those in England and Wales specifically.

The previous poll ran on 27-29 May 2013 was of 3,013 adults in England and Wales. It asked ‘In Britain, both civil marriages (i.e. held in a registry office) and religious marriages (i.e. based on someone’s religious beliefs) are legal forms of marriage. In Scotland, humanist marriages (i.e. based on someone’s non-religious beliefs) are also legally recognised as a form of marriage. Do you support or oppose the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, in addition to Scotland?’ It found 51% in support, 14% in opposition, and 35% either having no view one way or the other or saying they didn’t know. The survey was carried out online. The figures were weighted to be representative of all adults in England and Wales (aged 18+).

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns around marriage laws:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanist Society Scotland promotes Humanist values to people in Scotland, campaigns for an ethical, rational and secular future and gives voice to the millions of people in Scotland who live without religion. We support a community of over 14,000 members working together for a compassionate, dignified and respectful vision of Scotland and the world. We provide services such as ceremonies which enable people to discover Humanism and live their lives as Humanists.