As of the 29 March 2014, marriage for same-sex couples in England and Wales became a reality and many have already tied the knot.
At the time the Same Sex Couples (Marriage) Bill was passed there was no immediate provision for those in a civil partnership to be able to convert this to a marriage if they chose.
However, in the recently published ‘The Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014’ it is now the case that from 10 December 2014 civil partnerships can be converted to marriage. But how will this work and what does it mean in practice?
In order to convert a civil partnership into a marriage, most couples will need to follow the prescribed ‘standard procedure’. There are specified procedures for the less common scenarios, such as couples that are housebound, detained persons and for couples where a person is seriously ill and is not expected to recover. No matter which procedure is used, there is to be no religious service used at a conversion.
The standard procedure involves a fairly straightforward process where couples must attend a register office together. They must give the registrar the following information in order to be able to sign an official declaration: forenames, surname, date of birth, sex, rank or profession, address and the date and place of the formation of the civil partnership.
Afterwards, the registrar must register the conversion declaration as soon as is practicable. There should also be no need to pay a fee provided the civil partnership was registered before the 29 March 2014 and the conversion takes place before 10 December 2015.
It should therefore be an easy process to convert a civil partnership into a marriage and couples may use this as an opportunity to celebrate the ability to have their union recognized as now being a marriage.
Prior to the change in law allowing same-sex marriage, the distinction between a marriage and civil partnership was always an uncomfortable one in terms of terminology as it seemed to suggest same-sex couples were the ‘same, but different’.
The ability to convert should now at least address that imbalance, but in actual fact, does this somehow undermine the status of a civil partnership?
From a legal perspective, the distinctions between a civil partnership and a marriage are minimal, as was the original intention of Parliament when the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was created.
When couples in a civil partnership separate and they wish to formally bring the legal relationship to an end then they need to apply to the court to dissolve their civil partnership.
The process is the same as for heterosexual couples when getting divorced other than same-sex couples cannot rely on adultery as a ground for dissolution. With same-sex marriage it will be possible to become divorced as opposed to dissolution and adultery can be relied upon as a ground, but only if the adultery took place with a member of the opposite sex.
Additionally, when trying to resolve financial matters, the parameters that lawyers and judges use are identical as for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. This means that, for those who wish to convert their civil partnership to a marriage, it should make no practical or legal difference.
It would appear therefore that for those who wish to convert their legal union, it really comes to down to personal choice as to whether they wish to become married or to simply remain as civil partners.
It will no doubt be very important for many couples to be allowed the status they always felt they should have had and be recognized as legally married. There is a wealth of further information at nataliegambleassociates.com