P v P: Transgender application for declaration of valid Marriage.

[2019] EWHC 3105 (Fam) P v P is a case which does not have private international law implications – and I am not a family law expert. I simply flag the issues briefly for transgender family law issues do feature repeatedly in PIL scholarship and current case may become a point of reference.

In 1990, when 34 years of age, the applicant ‘AP’ underwent gender re-assignment surgery, transitioning from female to male. It follows that he had lived as a male for nearly 19 years at the point when he married JP who is a woman, and who was born a woman. At the time of the marriage in 2009, AP had not obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate (referred to in the judgment as a ‘GRC’), and his birth certificate had not been changed; his birth certificate showed him still as a female. GRC was not in existence in 1990, at the time of the transition.

In 2017, AP contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) raising queries about his pension entitlement. He was advised that his marital status could not be recognised. Despite a letter from AP’s general practitioner in 1990 confirming that AP had “now had surgery and other treatment for gender reassignment”, he was still legally female and was so at the time he purported to enter into the marriage with JP. AP understood the advice from the DWP to be that if he wished the marriage to be recognised as lawful, he would have to either obtain a declaration of validity or he would need to ‘re-marry’ her, but legally as a man.

AP therefore applied to the court to have the 2009 marriage declared lawful: “… so that I can continue to remain married to my wife. I do not wish to have my marriage declared void. This would be emotionally very distressing for us both.” 

Cobb J (concluding at 73 in fine that ‘I am conscious that this outcome will be very distressing to AP and JP’) reviews ECHR authority in particular Goodwin v UK (2002), but also the CJEU (MB v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; and C-673/16, Coman v Romania and in the end held that applicant’s Article 8 rights had not been infringed by the refusal of application of lawfulness, at 54 ff and summarising at 65 ff. At 66 he lists a number of initiatives applicant could have taken to make use of the UK’s provision for a legal mechanism for the recognition of the relationship of AP and JP. Absence of said provisions by the UK might have led to a finding of Article 8 ECHR breach – but availability of measures remedying the 1990 absence of GRC seem to have counted heavily to applicant’s disadvantage.


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