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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

19 AUG 2009

The Law and Financial Provision on the Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

Nicholas Allen, Barrister and Helen Williams, Pupil Barrister, 29 Bedford Row Chambers

Part I: Parity of Treatment and Pre-Registration Cohabitation The first part of this article discusses the law in relation to civil partnerships and the extent to which it is influenced by the concept of 'parity of treatment' between civil partners and married couples. Specific attention is paid to how the courts should treat pre-registration cohabitation. The second part, to be published at a future date, will deal with the complex issue of whether differences between civil partnerships and marriage are so fundamental that fairness between civil partners in financial provision on dissolution may only be achieved by adopting principles different from those established under the current ancillary relief regime. In particular, it is argued that if the courts are to promote 'equality' for same sex couples, they must pay attention to any differences (as well as any similarities) between the ways that same sex and opposite sex couples conduct their relationships, particularly with regard to financial arrangements.

More than three and a half years after the Civil Partnership Act 2004 ('the Act') came into force, the courts have still not had the opportunity to provide family lawyers with firm guidance as to how to go about determining financial provision on civil partnership dissolution. This article discusses the principles underlying the Act, and how those principles have been interpreted by the courts. Although no financial provision application has yet gone to final hearing, both Parliament and the courts have been keen to advocate 'parity of treatment' for civil partners whilst, at the same time, emphasising that marriage and civil partnership are distinct institutions. One area of particular significance is to what extent the courts will take pre-registration cohabitation (ie cohabitation prior to the commencement of the Act in December 2005) into account on dissolution. Any civil partnership that comes before the courts at present will be characterised by a relatively short period of civil partnership but quite possibly also by a long period of pre-registration cohabitation. This article argues that on the basis of 'parity of treatment' with married couples the courts will, and should, take such pre-registration cohabitation into account.

To read the rest of this article, see September [2009] Family Law journal.

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