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Civil partnership and gay marriage

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The controversy continues with the Catholic Church resisting the redefining of marriage to include gay couples whilst the government is due to introduce the consultation. The government seems to have indicated that the question is how the change will be introduced rather than whether it will be introduced. There are powerful opinions across the country and some ask is the resistance just homophobic behaviour?

Only this week the Court of Appeal is being asked to adjudicate on a high profile Civil Partnership case, the first to be tested. This case involved a wealthy City analyst Peter Lawrence and a West End actor Donald Gallagher who have ended their relationship after eleven years but had only been in a civil partnership for seven months. Mr Lawrence had been the higher earner whilst Mr Donaldson did earn but also made the home by decorating and improving the property for their joint benefit.

The assets in the case were £5 million. The property that the couple had lived in was treated as the former matrimonial home and Mr Gallagher had been awarded a share of that property. Mr Lawrence appealed arguing that he had owned the property for many years prior to the starting of their relationship and ought to be disregarded. The parties had also bought various properties over the eleven years they were together. At first instance Mrs Justice Parker divided the assets as to 42-58 percent in favour of Mr Lawrence. Mr Lawrence on appeal argued that the home they had shared should be excluded from the assets on the basis that it had increased in value over the years he had owned it.

If Mr Lawrence succeeds in his arguments this would mean that Mr Donaldson would have 15% of the net assets with no income provision. Such a result would be “inconceivable” in a husband and wife scenario whereby the wife had primarily been the homemaker allowing the husband to concentrate on being the breadwinner.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave couples who entered into Civil Partnership various rights akin to married couples in relation to property, children, violence, tax and other areas. The powers of the court and the guidelines that the court must consider are similar to married couples although there is of course far less case law to rely on.

Judgement is awaited in the Lawrence and Donaldson case and it is interesting that this case should come before the court at the time when the debate rages on as to whether the definition of marriage should be changed to include same sex couples.

By family law solicitor, Gillian Davies