James Ferguson: Civil partners should be treated the same as spouses

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The Independent Online

It is established law that on the breakdown of a civil partnership, civil partners should be treated the same as spouses on divorce. This was clearly reiterated by the Court of Appeal in this case. The judgment confirmed that if a civil partner owned a property before the civil partnership ceremony, the fact that it subsequently became the partnership home means it is available for sharing. It also made clear that just because both partners work outside the home and do not have children, it does not mean the partners can be categorised as a "dual career" couple so that their capital and income should be treated as being separate. The Court still has wide ranging powers to transfer assets.

Fundamentally, the case highlights that an outcome for civil partners can be just as uncertain and inconsistent as it can be for divorcing spouses. To try and minimise uncertainty, it is advisable for civil partners, as for spouses with pre-nuptial agreements, to consider a pre-civil partnership agreement to try to determine how the assets should be divided if the relationship ends.

The start point in these bigger asset cases is or ought to be 50:50, irrespective of whether it is a marriage or a civil partnership. There was no apparent rationale in this judgment for such a substantial departure from equality which has left our client with 33 per cent and his former partner with 67 per cent. We are not convinced that if you transposed the facts of this case to a 12 year heterosexual marriage, our client would have been left with such a small share.

The writer is a partner and head of family law at Boodle Hatfield, who represented Don Gallagher