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Do civil partnerships need dissolution to marry?

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 will enable same-sex couples to marry as from 29 March 2014.

However, it may come as something of a bombshell to couples who are already in a Civil Partnership to learn that the partnership cannot be converted to marriage until the process of conversion has been brought into effect.  A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said that “new procedures” are required and it is aimed that these will be in place “before the end of 2014”.

This basically means that couples in a Civil Partnership who wish to marry will first have to dissolve their partnership, which is the equivalent of a divorce.

There is only one ground to apply for a Dissolution of a Civil Partnership and that is that the partnership has “broken down irretrievably”.  To prove this, the dissolution petition will have to rely on a “fact” namely unreasonable behaviour or two or five years separation.

A happy couple will, therefore, need to commit perjury to convince a Court that the partnership should be dissolved.  There could be massive implications on their legal rights and obligations; both financially and in relation to any children of the partnership.

One couple from Barnsley has threatened to take legal action against the government after making this discovery.  Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice entered into a Civil Partnership in 2008 at a time when marriage was not an option.  They have adopted two disabled sons and wanted to become one of the first couples to convert to marriage.  After choosing their wedding suits and ordering a cake, when going to book a registrar, they were informed that they could not marry until they had obtained a dissolution of their Civil Partnership.  Their only reason to end their Civil Partnership is to marry and as far as their solicitors are concerned, the situation is “absurd”.

For more information, please contact our Family team.

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