No need for 'public airing' of relationship breakdowns for gay couples, says leading Yorkshire lawyer

Civil partnership 'divorce'

25.01.2007

As the first civil partnership dissolution gs through the courts, a Yorkshire lawyer is suggesting an alternative route for same-sex couples looking to end their relationship in a less public forum.

Alison Straw, head of the family team with national law firm Irwin Mitchell at its offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said as there is no precedent yet for civil partnership breakdowns, and therefore uncharted territory in the courts, an alternative way to ending relationships is collaborative law. This helps the couple remain in control of the process and could be a better option to a public airing of personal issues in court.

Civil partnerships legal expert

Mrs Straw said: We could now be seeing a number of same-sex couples looking to end their relationship after tying the knot since the introduction of civil partnerships at the end of 2005. As with heterosexual marriages where a couple must be married for at least a year before they can seek a divorce, the same applies for civil partners. Collaborative family law is an alternative to going to court, available to both heterosexual and same sex couples, offering a different way of dealing with issues arising from separation such as finance and children.

Collaborative law is a relatively new way of resolving a relationship breakdown which we offer to all of our clients looking to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership but what can make it so successful for the right couples is that the clients stay in control. They set the agenda and pace, and maintain communication with their former partner.

The first gay divorce began proceedings in December when one of the first same sex couples to tie the knot made British legal history when they also became the first to split. Daryl Bullock and Mark Godfrey exchanged their vows at The Guildhall in Bath beating Elton John and David Furnish's ceremony in Windsor by three hours. The couples civil partnership began dissolution through the county court in a process that began on December 21, exactly one year after they tied the knot.

Civil partnership divorce legal advice

Mrs Straw said: "Under collaborative law, couples still benefit from having their own independent legal advisor but do not have the uncertainty of the courts deciding the fate of the relationship. As dissolution is such a new area, this could be particularly advantageous for same-sex couples especially if they wish to keep their affairs more private.

"Collaborative law was introduced in the UK in 2004 by Resolution1, formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association, who believe in a constructive, non confrontational approach to family law matters. Through collaborative law, couples, their lawyers and other professionals work together in round table meetings to negotiate agreements to resolve financial and other issues without the involvement of the courts.

"All of Irwin Mitchells family lawyers are members of Resolution, and the organisation has a team of specially trained collaborative lawyers spanning their offices in Leeds, Sheffield and London who can offer couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, an alternative to resolving relationship breakdown in an acrimonious way.

Mrs Straw added: "How we deal with relationship breakdowns is crucial to the success of the outcome, both in financial and emotional terms. Whilst collaborative law will not suit all of our clients it is now an option in the range of family services that we can provide.

"It is important for civil partners, as well as same-sex couples to be aware of the other, more creative ways to resolve breakdowns."