Legal history made as actor loses £300,000 in gay 'divorce' ruling

 

A West End star lost part of the £1.7m settlement he was awarded following the break-up of his civil partnership, after the Court of Appeal ruled that his "home-making" role did not entitle him to a larger slice of the couple's assets.

In the first case of the Court of Appeal adjudicating over the settlement of a same-sex partnership, actor Don Gallagher, who played Bernadette on stage in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, was ordered to give up £300,000 to ex-partner Peter Lawrence, a City high-flier.

The judgment follows a legal battle between wealthy equity analyst Mr Lawrence, 47, and the actor, 54, who despite entering the relationship with assets of just £40,000, was awarded £1.7m of the couple's £4m assets, in part because of his contribution to maintaining a "lovely home".

The couple began a relationship in 1997 and entered a civil partnership in December 2007, which ended in September 2008.

Mr Lawrence, a £390,000-a-year analyst with J P Morgan, claimed that Mrs Justice Parker was wrong to include his London flat worth £2.4m when she divided partnership assets.

While Mr Lawrence retained the flat in Clink Wharf, central London, which pre-dated their relationship, Mr Gallagher was awarded Pine Cottage, a five-bedroom period home in Amberley, West Sussex, which the couple bought and was now worth £900,000.

The actor was also to receive £800,000, reflecting the disparity between the value of the two properties and including a £200,000 pension pot, giving him a £1.7m settlement, which the judge said recognised his contribution to the 11-year relationship.

Patrick Chamberlayne QC, for Mr Lawrence, told the court the division was "flawed" because of the unequal financial contributions which the two men brought to the partnership.

Tim Bishop QC for Mr Gallagher told the court he had played "the major domestic and home-making role" in the partnership. He said the actor, who has appeared in West End shows and on television in Casualty, Birds of a Feather and Taggart, "helped create and maintain a lovely home in the flat."

Mr Bishop said it would be "inconceivable" that the family courts would approve the kind of reduced settlement Mr Lawrence was seeking in the context of a heterosexual marriage of a similar duration. He said it was vital that "no person coming before this court who is homosexual should feel themselves treated as second class citizens".

Lord Justice Thorpe, ruling with Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Ryder, said that Mr Lawrence should not be allowed to take his London property out of the mix of assets to be divided.

Mr Gallagher "should have Pine Cottage – it is his pride and joy."

But the judge said there was no rationality for Mrs Justice Parker's lump sum figure of £577,778 and he thought a fairer figure would be £350,000 reducing it by £227,778. Mr Gallagher's total share of the £4.175m assets was cut from 42 per cent to 33 per cent.

Mr Lawrence said: "The case was not in fact about the principles of civil partnership, which are the same as on divorce, but about how to divide assets which were largely brought into the relationship by one party."

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