A group of gay lawyers specialising in same sex relationships, predicts few couples will apply to end a civil partnership when the first opportunity arrives on 21 December.

Instead lawyers at QueerPod have seen an increase in gay clients in heterosexual marriages seeking a divorce to form a civil partnership.

The 21st December 2006 marks the first opportunity for gay couples who have formed a civil partnership to have it dissolved in a ‘gay divorce’.

It is not possible to dissolve a CP until a year after it was formed. Although the first opportunity for couples to register their wish to form a civil partnership was 5 December 2005, the first ceremonies took place from 21 December.

QueerPod members are reporting very little demand for legal advice to dissolve a civil partnership. This is no surprise considering the demographics of the couples who formed the first wave of the 15,500 couples to register their partnerships so far – mainly older couples in long term relationships.

More surprising is the marked increase in enquiries from gay people in heterosexual marriages who have decided to divorce since the introduction of civil partnership in December 2005. Collectively,

QueerPod’s members have handled over 35 divorce enquires from gay people wanting to end a marriage to form a civil partnership in that time.

QueerPod lawyer, David Allison, said: “There is no rush to gay divorce as most of the first wave of civil partners are very happily hitched – many waited a long time to have their relationships legally recognised and nothing could be further from their minds on their first anniversary.”

“Traditionally we’ve had a steady trickle of divorce cases where one of the spouses is gay but since civil partnership was introduced we’ve seen a noticeable increase in these. One of the greatest positive effects of civil partnership is the cultural change it brought about. People are realising that they don’t need to stay in an unhappy marriage and many see the recognition of civil partnership as a signal that gay relationships are equally valid.”

Most legal advice on civil partnerships for same sex couples has related to pre-partnership agreements (pre-nups). QueerPod lawyer, Haema Sundram, said: “I did just two pre-nuptial agreements in 13 years and then 7 in the past year. They are more likely to stick for gay couples because, on the face of it, each person will be seen to have equal bargaining power and will know exactly what they are getting into. If they are taken into account in civil partnership breakdown, the courts may then be more likely to take them into account in divorces.”

Gay couples are negotiating agreements using the new collaborative law process which allows them to focus on what’s important to them. It also helps avoid the risk of the traditional adversarial approach souring their relationship in advance of their big day.

For those gay couples whose relationships do hit difficulties, collaborative law can provide them with a tailor-made negotiated settlement. This will be especially important as ‘gay divorce’ is uncharted territory in the courts. It is not yet known how judges will take into account cultural differences between heterosexual married couples and gay couples in a civil partnership.