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Preparing for your civil partnership

In March this year Boodle Hatfield's James Ferguson represented the actor Don Gallagher in the first civil partnership dissolution in the Court of Appeal. The case attracted a lot of media attention and many legal commentators are of the opinion that the courts still have some way to go in their treatment of civil partnerships.

The law is very clear in that it states that there should be no distinction between divorcing heterosexuals and civil partnership dissolution. Yet James believes that the Court has failed to treat this case in an identical manner to that which would be afforded to a heterosexual marriage. Don Gallagher has received different and inferior treatment to which a spouse would have received.

With this in mind, PRIDE Life spoke to James and found that he recommends civil partners consider a 'pre-civil partnership agreement' before committing the rest of their lives to each other in order to try and prevent an acrimonious battle through the courts.

Protect your assets

A pre-civil partnership agreement is essentially one that tries to regulate how personal and jointly owned assets will be distributed if the relationship were to fall apart and the civil partnership is dissolved. Such an agreement is important as whilst your pre-relationship assets remain yours, the courts may well decide to put them all into the sharing pot if the relationship were to break down.

To be recognised by the courts, a pre-civil partnership agreement should be drawn up as early as possible and certainly no later than 21 days before the civil partnership ceremony.

"We would recommend that the agreement be drawn up at the same time you book the registry office and reception venues," says James. "Both parties need to be prepared to provide full financial disclosure, outlining all assets and income. It is also necessary for both parties to take independent legal advice."

A pre-civil partnership agreement is a bespoke document that can name and describe how one-off items will be treated if the relationship were to break down, or it can talk in broader, more generic terms. If the agreement results in the financially weaker person being left with nothing it is unlikely that it will be upheld by the courts. It is also important that there is no sign of duress or coercion in signing the agreement.

James adds: "Pre-civil partnership agreements offer much greater protection when kept up to date, so it is important to review them every three of four years, or after a significant event that might change your financial status or the addition of a child to the family, much the same as you would with your Will."

Other considerations

Here are also other steps people should consider taking upon entering into a civil partnership, including:

  • Making or updating your Will to reflect your new status
  • If employed and your employer offers 'death in service' benefit, make sure your civil partner is named as the beneficiary or alternatively, set up life insurance
  • The extent to which you want to pool your assets or keep them separate.

Introducing James Ferguson

James is Head of Family Law at Boodle Hatfield. He has practiced family law for more than 30 years, drawn to the area because of the human element and high degree of client contact that is often missing from the corporate world.

It was the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 that perhaps represents one of the biggest changes to family law in his career, followed closely by the flood of pre-civil partnership agreements following the court's stamp of approval on pre-nuptial agreements in the Radmacher case in 2010.

James and his team at Boodle Hatfield has acted on a large number of high profile and high value heterosexual divorce cases and he is a natural choice for same sex partners looking to resolve family problems

James and his team will seek to resolve differences between separating civil partners by negotiation in the first instance. But rest assured if negotiation is not successful, James will fight his clients' corner with energy and passion. He is one of the few family lawyers in the country that can say he has been there through to the highest courts in the land.

This article by James Ferguson, a top London divorce lawyer, first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of PRIDE Life magazine.

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