“Conversion Wednesday” – one week to go

In contrast to the “Quiet Wednesday . . . antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday” planned for 10 December at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow,  register offices in England and Wales will be expecting a “Busy Wednesday” as couples in a civil partnership take this first opportunity for its conversion to a marriage.  The secondary legislation necessary for this part of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to come into force received parliamentary approval on 10 November, when the Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles) outlined the implications of these measures to the First Delegated Legislation Committee.

Legislation

A useful guide through the maze of legislation has been made by Luci Stokes on the Family Law website, who explains the provisions as follows:

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2014 was published on the 27 November 2014

This Order makes amendments to primary legislation as a consequence of the coming into force of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, c.30 (“the Act”). It also makes amendments in consequence of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, c.33  to correct previously omitted references to civil partners, and, in relation to Scotland, in consequence of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, asp 5.

Some provisions of the Act are already in force and two orders making consequential amendments (as well as other provision) have already been made: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) Order 2014, SI 560; and Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2014, SI 107. Various other statutory instruments have also been made. The provisions of the Act being brought into force on 10th December 2014 mainly concern the conversion of civil partnerships into marriages (“conversions”) and allow, subject to certain conditions, a couple to remain married if one or both of them changes their legal gender.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 makes marriage of same sex couples lawful in Scotland and makes similar changes to the Act in Scotland to allow couples in a civil partnership to change this to a marriage and for couples who are married to remain so, where one or both of them changes legal gender. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 will come into force on 16th December 2014.”

Practical Issues

 On 10 November, the Minister informed the Committee:

“On 22 October, a general registrar circular and question pamphlet about the new process was circulated. Officials have attended several regional group meetings for registration officers and there are two training days planned; the first is tomorrow in the north and the second is on 2 December in the south. The revised handbook for registration officers is due to be launched next week and there is a dedicated page on the registrars’ website providing updated information. Many local authorities have started sharing information on their websites. There is a great deal of activity and we will be encouraging everybody involved in the ceremonies and conversions to be as flexible and forthcoming as possible to couples who want to celebrate a very happy moment.”

A number of local authority web sites contain information on some of the more practical issues: Newcastle City Council provides the following Q&As:

Why is this provision being offered?: Some of the couples who have formed a civil partnership may have chosen marriage had that option been available.  This provision ensures that they will now have that option, although there will be no obligation to do so.

What about couples who enter a civil partnership from now on.  Will they also have the chance to convert their relationship into a marriage at a later date if they want to?: Yes.

When will conversion become available? You will be able to convert your civil partnership into marriage from 10 December 2014.

Will the civil partnership need to be dissolved before the conversion?: No.

Will the couple need to go through a marriage ceremony?: The conversion process will not be a marriage ceremony.  It is changing an existing legal relationship rather than forming a new one.

Do the couple need to give formal notice of their intention to convert?: No.  The conversion process is converting an already existing legal relationship.  Couples currently in civil partnership may now approach register offices for advice on how they can convert to a marriage after 10 December 2014.

Although couples will not need to give formal notice of their intention to convert, they will need to be advised in advance of the evidence they will need to provide to enable the conversion to take place.

What does the certificate of conversion look like?  Is it a marriage certificate?: The conversion will be registered in a register of conversion, not in the marriage register.  The final form of the certificate that will be issued is being finalised but is expected to include the date of civil partnership and date of conversion into marriage so that one certificate can be produced to evidence the length of the couple’s relationship[1]

Can the conversion take place at any service point within a local authority?: No. The conversion can take place only at the Register Office for the registration district.Why are there no plans to allow for conversions to take place at other venues e.g. a registered building or approved premises?: Conversions are a different legal process from marriage as the couple have already made a legally binding commitment to each other in front of witnesses. It has always been the intention that the conversion process will be straightforward and administrative and should not detract from the significance of the original civil partnership, making a transformation of the existing legal relationship rather than forming a new one.  Following the conversion couples can have a non-statutory celebration or ceremony if they wish to in a venue of their choosing (although religious bodies would need the permission of their governing bodies to do this).

Is there any restriction on who can convert a civil partnership into a marriage?: Yes. Conversions will only be possible for couples who registered their civil partnership in England and Wales or overseas in a consulate or armed forces base (where civil partnerships are registered according to the law of England and Wales).

Will couples who are subject to immigration control for the formation of their civil partnership be required to attend at a designated register office for the conversion?: No. Couples have already fulfilled this requirement when they registered the civil partnership so they will be able to attend at any register office.

On the issue of costs, the Government Equalities Office states:

“Couples will have the choice of:

  • a simple process at a register office, which was outlined in the original regulations and now also includes a wider range of local authority offices where registrars have access to the necessary systems
  • the new option of a 2-stage process where a superintendent registrar or their deputy can complete the conversion at another venue – this will allow the couple’s family and friends to attend and a ceremony can follow immediately after

The conversion can take place at a wide range of approved premises such as hotels, stately homes and religious premises which have been registered for the marriage of same-sex couples.

For the first year, all couples who formed their civil partnership before 29 March 2014 (when marriage was extended to same sex couples) will be able to receive a £45 fee reduction. This means the 1-stage process will be free. The cost of providing the 2-stage process is higher as the procedure will take longer and the superintendent registrar will have to travel to the venue. People choosing the 2-stage process will have the same sum (£45) deducted from the total price.”

For legal anoraks

Article 4 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013(Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland)Act 2014 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2014 SI 3168 revokes article 5 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) Order 2014 (S.I. 2014/560) as from 16th December 2014, the date on which is when section 4(1) of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 comes into force.  Until that date, article 5 of SI 2014/560 provides that:

“[u]nder the law of Scotland, a marriage of a same sex couple under the law of England and Wales is to be treated as a civil partnership formed under the law of England and Wales, and accordingly, the spouses are to be treated as civil partners”.

Article 5 of SI 2014/3168 addresses the possible lacunae and makes transitional and saving provision in relation to the revocation.

Comment

Latest data from ONS indicate that since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, there were 60,454 civil partnerships up to the end of 2012, i.e. 120,908 civil partners, an order of magnitude greater than the 11,000 to 22,000 civil partners estimated in the regulatory impact assessment.  The ONS is currently examining the trends in civil partnerships, how marriages to same sex couples will change the statistics, and how this might best be reported, here and here.

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[1] Pink News reports that couples who choose to convert their status will now be entitled to a backdated marriage certificate as opposed to a certificate of conversion as previously suggested. The backdated certificate will be almost identical to a marriage certificate issued without a conversion but there are some necessary differences. The date the original civil partnership was registered will be shown as the ‘when married’ date. To make sure that the marriage is properly recognised, the certificate will also have to show the conversion date as the ‘when married’ date will be before it became legal for same sex couples to marry in England and Wales

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "“Conversion Wednesday” – one week to go" in Law & Religion UK, 3 December 2014, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2014/12/03/conversion-wednesday-one-week-to-go/

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