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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Civil partnerships feel the strain

Civil partnerships have become part of our culture now and are a long overdue recognition of loving relationships between same sex couples. It seems ridiculous that, for so long, gay couples could not show their commitment to each other in the same way that heterosexual couples could, or enjoy the same legal standing as what some might call more conventional unions. Civil Partnerships

There are still a few oddities around civil partnerships though that set them apart so that many people will not recognise them in the same way as a marriage. The name for a start is a bit of a romance killer. It sounds more like legal requirement than a lifelong commitment between two loving adults. I would support moves to just make it exactly the same as a more conventional marriage in its legal standing and terminology.

Then of course there is the rule that you cannot dissolve a civil partnership on the grounds of adultery. Why? I’m not sure, except that the law sees adultery as occuring between a man and a woman. Surely out of date? Surely the issue with "adultery" is the emotional abandonment and the effects of it and it isn't a heterosexual upset only. Aside from that, the process is very similar to a divorce. One of the parties must start the ball rolling by filing a petition with the courts seeking a dissolution and give reasons why they want end the partnership. Due process then follows.

We’ve been noticing something unusual though. We have been seeing a significant number of people recently enquiring about dissolving a civil partnership within the first 12 months, more than in marriages. Anecdotal evidence from colleagues elsewhere supports this. I don’t know why this should be. Many are from couples who have been together for a number of years beforehand so it is not that they have rushed into anything or suddenly discovered they are not compatible. Is it something about the process/ceremony itself? Or is it because significant numbers of gay couples are entering into a civil partnership as a last ditch attempt to save a failing relationship? Maybe they were just happy as they were and the added legal responsibilities don’t sit well?

I don’t know what the answers are to these points, though I would be interested to hear other people’s views on this bona fide phenomenon. I have said before that there is a case to be made for compulsory pre-marriage counselling for couples. Maybe this should extend to pre-civil partnership counselling for same sex couples who, on the face of it, appear to hit more trouble in the first 12 months than other sectors of society?

Or maybe simply calling it gay marriage and making it more like a traditional wedding would take away some of the pressure on gay couples and make it seem more like a lifelong union than a necessary legal arrangement.

Andrew Woolley
Divorce Solicitor


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