Appeal Court reduces civil partnership award

Don Gallagher
Image caption Mr Gallagher starred as Bernadette in the West End version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Judges have overturned a decision that awarded an actor a £1.7m settlement after his civil partnership broke down.

The Appeal Court ruled Donald Gallagher was not entitled to 42% of the assets he shared with Peter Lawrence, and cut his share to 33% - less than £1.5m.

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the crucial issue was whether the courts applied the same rules to civil partnerships as to a heterosexual marriage.

Mr Gallagher said he was disappointed.

The 54-year-old actor and his ex-partner, a city analyst, split up after a civil partnership which had lasted seven months, although they had previously cohabited for more than 11 years.

A judge in the family court originally ruled that Mr Gallagher - who played the lead role in the West End version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - was entitled to £1.7m out of the couple's assets of some £4.175 m.

The Appeal Court had heard evidence that while Mr Gallagher had worked on and off as an actor, he had devoted much of his time to a "home-making" role.

But lawyers for Mr Lawrence, who earns £390,000-a-year working for investment bank JP Morgan, said the original estimate of the couple's joint assets had been flawed.

They also argued the family court had failed to take proper account of the fact that both men had income from their own careers.

Two properties - a flat in London and a listed house in West Sussex - were at the centre of the dispute.

The appeal judges heard the original ruling was that that the Mr Gallagher should have the house, and Mr Lawrence keep the London flat.

Mr Gallagher was also awarded a lump sum of £577,778 to recognise a "disparity" in the properties' values.

Same rights?

But the appeal judges, Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Ryder said the lump sum was too much and should be reduced to £350,000.

Lawyers for Mr Lawrence had argued the London property should not be viewed as a "partnership asset" because their client had owned it before the couple started living together in February 1997.

And they said the family judge was mistaken to treat as irrelevant a "declaration of trust" signed by the two men, which reflected the unequal financial contributions that the men made to the West Sussex house.

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said it was the first time a civil partnership breakdown had been tested in the courts.

He said the Civil Partnership Act - introduced in 2004 - says those who enter into partnerships have "exactly the same financial rights" as heterosexual married people.

'Significantly less'

Afterwards Mr Gallagher's lawyers said their cliet was "disappointed" by the decision, adding it was questionable whether the outcome would have been the same if the judges were considering the same situation in a heterosexual marriage.

They said Mr Gallagher's final award was "significantly less than what a court would consider to be reasonable for either divorcing heterosexual couples or separating civil partners in these circumstances".

But Mr Lawrence said: "The case was not in fact about the principles of civil partnership, which are the same as on divorce, but about how to divide assets which were largely brought into the relationship by one party.

"The particular issue... was how much Mr Gallagher should receive in relation to the increase in value of a property owned by Peter Lawrence which shot up in value simply as a result of London property prices."

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