Until recently, same sex couples only had the option to enter into a Civil Partnership, in order to gain legal recognition as a couple. However, campaigners for gay rights strongly believed that same sex couples should be able to marry, just as heterosexual couples can. The campaigning paid off and the government, passed legislation to enable same sex couples to marry in England and Wales from March 2014.
The new law has been widely accepted by society and gay weddings are becoming commonplace. The changes in the law over the past few years have caused some confusion about the legal status and rights of those who entered into Civil Partnerships prior to the change in the law. Here are some of the commonly asked questions that we as family lawyers get asked on the issue:
Q My partner and I entered into a Civil Partnership in 2012. Can we convert our partnership into a marriage?
A The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised same sex marriage from March 2014. The Act was subsequently amended to allow conversion of a civil partnership into a marriage from December 2014 onwards. On the day that conversion became legally possible, Mary Portas, the TV presenter and fashion consultant, and her partner were famously the first couple to have the conversion ceremony at one minute past midnight at Westminster City Hall, who opened their doors especially for the occasion.
The process for conversion requires making an appointment at your local register office and signing a declaration confirming the details of your Civil Partnership. You will also need to provide forms of identification to the registrar as well as your Civil Partnership certificate. You will then receive a marriage certificate and your marriage will be registered. It is your choice whether to follow this conversion with a ceremony.
Q We entered into a Civil Partnership and now sadly, our relationship has broken down due to my partner having an affair and entering into another gay relationship. We have friends who are going through a divorce – is it the same process for us?
A The process is very similar but not identical. Technically, you will be asking the court to dissolve your civil partnership rather than to grant you a divorce. You will need to provide a reason for wanting to dissolve your partnership in the same way that a reason is required for divorce. There are five possible grounds for divorce including adultery. Adultery cannot be cited as a reason for the breakdown of a civil partnership as the legal definition of adultery is archaic and does not include homosexual sexual intercourse. This will not prevent dissolution as you will be able to adapt one of the remaining four grounds to your circumstances.
Q We have decided to get married next year. I inherited some wealth last year and would like to protect my assets by entering into a pre-nuptial agreement. Is this possible?
A Absolutely. A Pre-nuptial agreement should be a consideration for all people who are entering into a marriage, gay or straight. This is even more important where there are assets that have been acquired prior to the marriage or for people entering into second marriages. There is important legal guidance on pre-nuptial agreements that must be adhered to in order for the agreement to be valid and so we recommend you take legal advice.
Q I married my partner in June 2014 but our relationship has broken down and I want a divorce. Where do I start?
A The first thing that you need to be aware of is that, although you can separate, you cannot petition for divorce until 12 months after the date of your marriage. The process is the same for all divorces and requires the petitioner to explain to the court within the Divorce Petition why the marriage has broken down. After submitting the petition, it will be served upon your spouse (usually by post), who must then acknowledge receipt. You will then be able to apply for the Decree Nisi of your divorce. Six weeks and one day after this has been pronounced, you can apply for the Decree Absolute – the final divorce certificate that will replace your marriage certificate for all legal purposes. Your solicitor may advise you to delay your application for Decree Absolute until the matrimonial finances have been agreed in order to prevent you from losing out on any spousal benefits in the event of the death of your husband/wife prior to arranging your independent financial futures.
We would recommend that you make an appointment with a solicitor in early course for advice specific to your circumstances. You will then be guided through the divorce process and advised in terms of your matrimonial finances and any other issues such as those involving children.
If you have any further questions on Civil Partnership and marriage or relationship breakdown, then please contact our specialist team on 0161 969 3131 and make an appointment.