Ex-civil partner loses cash fight


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The Independent Online

An actor awarded nearly £1.7 million by a High Court judge after his civil partnership with a City high flier ended today lost a Court of Appeal fight over cash.

Financial analyst Peter Lawrence, of central London, complained that West End star Don Gallagher, of Amberley, West Sussex, had been given too big a share of joint assets of more than £4 million.

Three appeal judges agreed and cut Mr Gallagher's award to around £1.4 million.

It was thought to be the first time that the Court of Appeal had adjudicated following the break up of a civil partnership.

Judges were told that Mr Gallagher, who is in his mid-50s, was an actor who had played a lead role in the stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mr Lawrence, who is in his late-40s, was an equity analyst at investment bank JP Morgan.

The two men began living together in 1997 at a flat in Clink Wharf, central London, and entered into a civil partnership in 2007, the appeal court heard.

Judges were told that the couple, whose joint assets also included a cottage in Amberley, had separated in 2008 then argued over money in the High Court.

Judge Mrs Justice Parker had said Mr Lawrence should get the London flat and Mr Gallagher Pine Cottage in Amberley - which was his "pride and joy" - following a High Court hearing in London in June 2011.

But Mrs Justice Parker was told that the London flat was worth "more than twice" the West Sussex cottage.

And to "reflect the disparity" in the properties' values, she also awarded Mr Gallagher a lump sum of £577,778.

Appeal judges Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Ryder - who heard legal argument at a hearing in London earlier this month and gave their decision today - said that lump sum was too much and should be reduced to £350,000.

Mr Lawrence's solicitor, Sarah Higgins, of law firm Charles Russell, said later: "Mr Lawrence is pleased that the order has been varied and that the matter has been concluded."

Lawyers representing Mr Gallagher said the actor had left court with more than he had been offered.

"In one sense, this is a disappointing decision for my client," said Mr Gallagher's lawyer James Ferguson, a partner at law firm Boodle Hatfield.

"The High Court judge's decision has been overturned, despite the fact that the appeal judge described it as 'a careful and conscientious judgment'.

"The appeal judge was critical of the High Court judge's method of calculating the lump sum figure of £577,778 but failed to set out the rationale for substituting it with the lower figure of £350,000.

"However, Don has still come away with far more than Mr Lawrence ever offered him and the outcome is much closer to Don's original proposal than Mr Lawrence's."

Appeal judges said they had approached the case in the way they would have approached a divorce dispute.

"This is said to be the first substantial appeal concerning financial orders made following the dissolution of a civil partnership," said Lord Justice Thorpe.

"The fact that the claim arises from the dissolution of a civil partnership rather than a marriage is of little moment since it is common ground that ... language (in) the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is identical to ... language (in) the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973."

Mr Gallagher had argued for a "sharing approach". Mr Lawrence disagreed and said the partnership should be "characterised as a dual career relationship".

Mrs Justice Parker had described Mr Lawrence's proposals as "very inadequate" and said they did not meet Mr Gallagher's "needs".

And Lord Justice Thorpe today said Mr Lawrence's case in the High Court had been "so far from achievable as to be almost fanciful".

"The only realistic view was that this successful and affluent couple had enjoyed the use of two properties whilst they were happy together," said Lord Justice Thorpe.

"Once they fell out each needed a home of his own. It was self evident that the appellant should have Clink Wharf (it pre-dated the partnership and was necessary for his work) and that the respondent should have Pine Cottage (it is his pride and joy)."

But Lord Justice Thorpe said there had been "no rationality" to the lump sum figure of £577,778 and added: "Whether approached on a needs basis or a fair sharing basis I would propose a lump sum of £350,000."

He said the case had been "comparatively simple" and went on: "It was made unnecessarily complicated as the advocates sought to achieve their goals by praying in aid one judicial creation or another."