Shelley Cumbers, Family and Divorce Law Solicitor at Thompson Smith and Puxon (TSP), discussed recently the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples and the ability of those already registered in civil partnerships to convert to marriage from 10 December 2014. She now looks at the implications of these recent changes in the family law world, including how civil partners can go about converting their relationship to marriage and what other matters they should consider, such as preparing a Will and entering into a marital agreement.

How to convert a civil partnership to marriage

Following the recent Government announcement that same-sex couples will be able to convert their existing civil partnerships to marriage from 10 December 2014, it has now been confirmed that the conversion process will be a straightforward one. Writing in Pink News, Sajid Javid, Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister, has officially announced that to convert a civil partnership into marriage, the couple will simply be required to attend a Register Office and both sign a declaration that they wish to convert their civil partnership to a marriage in front of the Superintendent Registrar. The conversion will not involve a ceremony, but couples will be welcome to have a non marriage celebratory ceremony after the conversion has taken place.

Sajid Javid MP has also confirmed to the House of Commons that the fee (currently set at £45) for converting civil partnerships to marriage will be waived for one year for those couples who formed civil partnerships before same-sex marriage was introduced. This means that couples who formed civil partnerships before 29 March 2014 will have until 9 December 2015 to convert their civil partnership to a marriage free of charge. After that date the fee will apply. Couples who formed civil partnerships after the introduction of same-sex marriage (i.e. from 29 March 2014 onwards) will need to pay the £45 fee if they wish to have a conversion. Couples wishing to convert an existing civil partnership to marriage are advised to contact their local Register Office for further details as to the conversion process.

What else should civil partners converting to marriage consider?

Whilst civil partners planning their marriage conversions for later in the year may wish to mark the occasion with a party or celebration with friends and family, there are a number of other matters they should also consider and seek advice on from a specialist lawyer.

Firstly, consideration should be given to preparing a Will or amending an existing Will. All couples, whether unmarried, married or registered in civil partnerships, should be encouraged to make a Will so that their wishes as to how their estate will be administered on death can be carried out without complication.

The preparation of Wills for those converting their civil partnerships to marriage is doubly important. This is because the general rule is that marriage automatically revokes any existing Will made by either party before their marriage, subject to limited exceptions. Therefore, civil partners converting their relationship to marriage should seek legal advice from a specialist Wills and Estates lawyer as to the preparation of a Will if they do not already have one, or reviewing any existing Will in light of their impending marriage conversion.

Secondly, civil partners planning on converting their relationship to marriage should consider entering into a marital agreement to set out, amongst other things, what they intend to happen to their financial affairs if the marriage breaks down in the future. An agreement can be entered into before the marriage, in which case it is known as a pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup). Alternatively, the agreement can be made after the marriage has taken place, in which case it is known as a post-nuptial agreement (post-nup). Some couples converting civil partnerships to marriage may have already entered into agreements with one another when their civil partnership was registered or afterwards, such as pre or post-civil partnership agreements. Such couples are advised to speak with a specialist family lawyer as to reviewing and updating the agreement in light of their marriage.

Whilst pre-nup and post-nup agreements are not, strictly speaking, binding in the event of a couple later divorcing in England and Wales, case law has developed to the extent that the courts should give effect to the agreement provided there has been a full and frank exchange of the parties’ respective financial circumstances to one another and both parties have taken independent legal advice on the agreement and its implications. In addition, the court must be satisfied that it is fair to hold the parties to the agreement. For these reasons it is best practice, for couples considering a pre-nup, to ensure that they agree its terms well in advance of their marriage so that neither party feels unduly pressured into signing the agreement.

The benefits for couples in entering pre-nup or post-nup agreements is that they can decide what they want to happen in the event of their marriage breaking down. All couples are different which means that any agreement they make can be personalised to suit their circumstances. The agreement can, amongst other matters, set out the following:

  • How any property brought into the marriage will be treated
  • What will happen to the family home
  • What will happen to any inherited property received during the marriage
  • How joint bank accounts and property jointly acquired between the parties will be dealt with
  • What will happen to any savings and investments accumulated during the marriage, as well as how any debts will be treated
  • How any pensions will be dealt with
  • The arrangements for financial support (otherwise known as spousal maintenance)
  • Triggering events to force a review of the agreement in the future; and
  • The practical and financial arrangements for any children either party has or is likely to have in the future.

Therefore, there are a number of issues to be considered by civil partners planning on converting to marriage on or after 10 December 2014. If you need further advice about your position or the issues raised in this article, then the experienced Family Law and Wills & Estates Teams at Thompson Smith and Puxon can assist you.

Shelley advises clients on all aspects of private family law and is able to offer a free 15 minute initial telephone chat for prospective clients. She is a member of Resolution and a Collaborative Lawyer. She is committed to resolving matters constructively and sensibly.

To find out more about how Shelley can help contact her on 01206 217078 or by email at shelley.cumbers@tsplegal.com.