Appeal Ruling ‘Confirms Legal Stance On Civil Partnerships’

Expert Comments Following 'First Of Its Kind' Case


A landmark Court of Appeal ruling which has demonstrated how the Courts are continuing to view civil partnerships in the same light as marriages, according to a family law specialist at Irwin Mitchell.

The judgment, related to the dissolution of a civil partnership between a city businessman Peter Lawrence and his former partner Don Gallagher, overturned an initial ruling which saw the latter receive 42 per cent of their shared assets.

However, it was decided that this should be reduced to a 33 per cent share, after three judges disagreed with the previous decision made in June last year.

The case is believed to be the first time the Court of Appeal has considered the facts in relation to the split of assets following the breakdown of a civil partnership.

Alison Hawes, Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The Court of Appeal today handed down what is said to be the first substantial appeal concerning financial issues between a same-sex couple following the dissolution of a civil partnership.

“However, as Lord Justice Thorpe pointed out at the very beginning of his judgment, the fact that the claim arose from a civil partnership rather than a marriage was in fact irrelevant because the principles used are identical in both cases.

“What is interesting about the judgment is the Judge’s impatience with the courts and legal advisers straining the words of the statute to try to come up with creative ways of describing relatively simple concepts. It is clear from the review of the hearing before the High Court judge that there was a very detailed analysis of the entire history of the couple’s dealings over the course of their 12-year committed relationship and some creative descriptions of what might be ‘fair’.

“In terms, although Lord Justice Thorpe found that challenges to the original order might be technically correct, his view was that they made not very much difference to the overall position. His judgment could be read as an appeal to specialist practitioners not to overcomplicate a relatively straightforward situation where after a long relationship parties both needed affordable, comfortable housing; enough income to meet their needs and pension provision on retirement.

“In a typically succinct judgment, Lord Justice Thorpe pointed out that until and unless the law is changed to provide clarity in relation to ‘non matrimonial property’, or how one party should meet another's need on relationship breakdown, ‘we must never forget the legislated checklist’. It is a timely reminder to focus on the law rather than striving to be too clever.”