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Legally registered relationship status is a person’s status with respect to their relationship, which has been registered according to the laws or customs of the country in which they entered into that relationship. People in New Zealand can enter into two types of legally registered relationships: marriage and civil union.

For a full definition of 'legally registered relationships', 'marriage' and 'civil union' see the glossary section of this standard.

Operational issues

Legally registered relationship status is relatively straightforward to operationalise as it has precise definitions, however, the introduction of civil unions as a legally registered relationship, which is an alternative to marriage, appears to have been misinterpreted by some respondents. For example the 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings had significantly more people reporting they were in a civil union compared with the number of actual registration information supplied by the Department of Internal Affairs up to 7 March 2006.

Explanatory notes

Changes since the 1999 review of the statistical standard

The marital status statistical standard, which included both legal marital and social marital status, was updated in 1999 and has been reviewed as part of a review of a suite of household and family classifications between June 2007 and August 2008. As a result, two new statistical standards have been developed; one for legally registered relationship status, which replaces legal marital status; and one for partnership status in current relationship, which replaces social marital status. Both statistical standards are timetabled for review within the next 10 years.

The legal marital status classification needed to be updated to incorporate civil unions (both same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions) as these relationships became an alternative to marriage with the passing of the Civil Union Act 2004, which came into force in April 2005. The classification was renamed ‘legally registered relationship status’ to better reflect its scope.

During the review process it became apparent that, because of the needs of different survey areas both within Statistics New Zealand (including the area, Population Statistics, which processes administrative data supplied by the Department of Internal Affairs) and other Official Statistics System (OSS) collections, it was not possible to create one simple classification that would meet the needs of every data collection.

Flexible approach to classifications

The approach taken was to create a core classification (or master version) for legally registered relationship status. The master version is a framework that contains a set of approved levels and categories, as well as a glossary of defined terms. This approach provides flexibility for survey areas, as they do not need to use every level of the classification, or need to use every category within a level. The master version can be aggregated to form alternative versions to meet the needs of specific collections. Aggregations will be versions of the master framework and will be developed by the classifications team, in consultation with survey areas, and stored in the Classifications and Related Standards (CARS) database. This will enable more comparison between surveys, as the definitions and conceptual basis will be consistent.

Defining complex social constructs can be difficult particularly when there is inconsistent use of terminology by different people and social groups. For example, someone who has been married and their spouse has passed away may prefer the term 'widowed' and would not want to be referred to as a 'surviving partner', while others may have no preference. Conversely, someone whose civil union partner has passed away may prefer the term 'widowed', while others may not want to be classified this way. One term to cover those who are widowed and those who are surviving civil union partners was not found during this review and the decision was made to use both these terms in the classification.

Classification changes

The new legally registered relationship status classification remains hierarchical but now has four levels instead of three. The first two levels are simple. Level 1 groups together those who:

  • are currently married with those currently in a civil union (not separated)
  • were previously married and are now either separated/dissolved/widowed with those who were previously in a civil union and are now either separated/dissolved/surviving partner*
  • have never been married and have never been in a civil union.

* This classification category (at level 1) is labelled 'separated/dissolved/widowed/surviving partner' for simplicity.

Levels 2 and 3 classify those who are married separately from those who are in a civil union. Level 2 classifies people who were previously married or in a civil union by distinguishing between their status – whether they are separated, dissolved, widowed/surviving civil union partner. Level 3 classifies different types of relationships that have ended, for example, 'separated (marriage)' or 'separated (civil union)' and distinguishes between those who are widowed and those who are a surviving civil union partner. At level 4, opposite-sex and same-sex options have been included where appropriate. Levels 3 and 4 are more detailed and are primarily incorporated to cover the administrative data collection for vital statistics.

The categories 'first marriage' and 'remarried' have been removed as this information was not needed.

The legally registered relationship status master classification will be concorded to the old NZ standard legal marital status classification. Each survey-specific version can also be concorded to the master version of the legally registered relationship status classification.

These changes were a result of users' requirements, and have enabled a wider variety of surveys to use the standard classification framework.

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