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Priscilla Queen of the Desert star moves centre stage to the Court of Appeal

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The Court of Appeal has today handed down its first judgement in a civil partnership case. The case concerns Peter Lawrence a city banker and his civil partner Donald Gallagher, an actor who recently starred in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The parties entered into a Civil Partnership in December 2007 and some seven months later their relationship broke down. However, they had lived together for some years and this was taken into account so they were treated as having been together for over eleven years.

The parties had invested in various properties over the years but the matrimonial home had been owned by Peter Lawrence prior to the parties entering into the Civil Partnership. Donald Gallagher argued that the assets should be shared but Peter Lawrence said that the home was not an asset of the partnership and should be excluded from division.

At first instance Donald Gallagher was awarded a share of the former home. In assessing the amount due to Donald Gallagher the court took into account the capital appreciation of the property. The Court of Appeal said that this was the wrong approach. Thorpe L J said it was “the product of the demand for London properties in good locations, simply not matched by the performance of country cottages however pleasantly situated.”  The court was concerned that both parties had a home and could afford to live comfortably so one might say the court made a decision of what they perceived to be the needs of the parties. The court found that the approach adopted at first instance was too “theoretical” and reduced the award.

However, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this case has shown prejudice towards same sex couples as opposed to a married couple. That is not the case. This is not about divorce or civil partnership. The case was about how the financial assets should be divided.

The law still remains uncertain and this has been recognised by the Law Commission who will be considering the financial entitlement of divorced couples and civil partnership on divorce or dissolution. It is recognised that the law as it stands is unclear and produces inconsistent outcomes. There needs to be more clarity so that people can know what to expect and can be dealt with expeditiously with as little pain as possible which is clearly in the interests of all.

By family law solicitor, Gillian Davies