The first same sex couples will be able to tie the knot on 29th March 2014 as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act comes into force. This is one of many pieces of legislation introduced by the Coalition Government which has, in the view of some, been rushed through Parliament at speed.
Publicity to-date has focused upon providing an insight into how gay marriages in this country may take place, the controversial aspect of gay marriage being opposed by clerics of some faiths and the gay community itself celebrating an overwhelming feeling of it's about time.
Amidst such tabloid publicity however, the S9 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2014 appears to have been overlooked by many. S9 essentially allows a civil partnership to be converted into a marriage provided that the civil partnership has been registered. At the point the civil partnership becomes a marriage, the civil partnership ceases to exist and the marriage is treated as having started on the date the civil partnership was entered into i.e. the marriage is back-dated.
Despite this seeming straightforward, the Government hasn't yet decided how this is to happen. The legal process of converting a civil partnership into a gay marriage hasn't yet been sorted out and it is said that the process will not be finalised before the end of 2014. For the time being, the only way around this is for civil partners to dissolve the civil partnership through a legal process similar to divorce and for the same sex couple to then marry post-29th March 2014.
This has led a gay couple from Barnsley to threaten the Government with judicial review. On attempting to book the registrar for their same sex marriage, they were told they could not marry until they had first dissolved their civil partnership. Wedding plans have no doubt been put on hold as they await a response from the Government.
The process for dissolving a civil partnership usually takes about 4 months, involves payment of a court fee (which is currently £410) and the payment of legal fees if you instruct a solicitor to find a way round the legal system and form filling on your behalf. This in itself is not a simple process. In addition to this, you can't just dissolve your civil partnership because the Government hasn't decided what the legal process is yet of converting a civil partnership into a gay marriage; the Judge has to be satisfied that the relationship has broken down and has been supported by acts or, as many refer to them, rounds. For civil partnership dissolution this either means citing behaviour that you find unreasonable on the part of your civil partner, separating for a period of 2 years (with consent) or 5 years, or having been deserted for a period of 2 years. Petitioning upon the grounds of behaviour is often referred to as the quickie divorce in this country as no period of separation is required and you can divorce or dissolve your civil partnership within about 4 months. Such a notion however is probably not the most romantic start to a marriage, whether same sex or not, to precede it with a written document giving examples of your soon-to-be spouse's behaviour that you find unreasonable.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said the process for converting civil partnership into same sex marriage is likely to be finalised by the end of 2014.
For the time being, it would seem that gay couples who have already taken steps to legalise their relationship through civil partnership are likely to face delaying their wedding plans for a few more months.
If you need any advice relating to civil partnerships please contact the Family Law team on 0113 201 4900 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.Back to Blog