Vol. 10.2, October 2006

Ian Curry-Sumner, All's well that ends registered? The Substantive and Private International Law Aspects of Non-Marital Registered Relationships in Europe (Antwerp: Intersentia, 2003; European Family Law Series, Vol. 11), xxvi + 600 pp., ISBN 90-5095-532-0, EUR 92.00.

Non-Marital Registered Relationships in Europe

Since the last decade of the previous century, an increasing number of European countries have been creating specific legislation on the topic of non-marital relationships, with or without specific registration schemes. The reviewed book—the commercial edition of Ian Curry-Sumner’s dissertation defended at Utrecht University (the Netherlands)—has been edited as the 11th volume of the well-known European Family Law Series. The author has previously published two other volumes in this series, namely Family Law Legislation of the Netherlands and Inheritance Law legislation of the Netherlands (both in cooperation with Hans Warendorf).

The research project can be evaluated as being both original and valuable, not only at an academic level, but also because of its important social relevance. The lack of uniformity concerning the issue of non-marital registered relationships throughout the legislation of the European countries is explained by an inventory of the similarities and differences in the relevant substantive law of five European countries (seven jurisdictions). The central research question is whether it is desirable, and if so, possible to aim for the harmonisation or unification of private international law rules in this specific field of non-marital registered relationships. The introductory chapter of the book finishes with some theoretical considerations on the problem of characterisation.

The second part of the book is devoted to an in-depth analysis of the national substantive law concerning non-marital registered relationships in Belgium (wettelijke samenwoning, cohabitation légale), France (pacte civil de solidarité), the Netherlands (geregistreerd partnerschap), Switzerland (partneriat enregistré, eingetragene Partnerschaft, unione domestica registrata), and the United Kingdom (registered partnership). The structure used for the analysis is both clear and functional. After having elucidated the historical precursors to the respective pieces of legislation, the author discusses for each country the establishment, legal effects and dissolution of the relationship. Based on this comparative analysis, the author concludes there is a similarity in function between the different types of registered relationships in the countries examined, regardless of their enormous substantive diversity. In each and every case, the system is a regulated form of registration for two persons involved in an exclusive, intimate relationship. Opting into this system by means of registration of the relationships entails the attribution of rights and duties and the assumption of obligations and responsibilities between the parties themselves, as well as with regard to third parties and the State.

This conclusion forms the springboard for the third part of the research, being the search for harmonisation or unification possibilities in the field of cross-border non-marital registered relationships. The third part reconsiders the problem of characterisation by applying the theory and research results outlined in the second part, where the author refers to the choice between two traditional private international law legal categories: personal status and contract. The qualification rules adopted in the countries examined are subsequently compared and evaluated. Next, a number of criteria are extrapolated which are then applied to all those jurisdictions around the world which have enacted registration schemes. The author ends his work with a description of the international private law aspects of the establishment, legal effects and dissolution of the non-marital registered relationships.

As a conclusion, the author states that the unification of international private law on the issue of non-marital registered relationships is not only desirable and feasible, but also possible.

Over 400 years after Shakespeare wrote the play referred to in the title of Ian Curry-Sumner’s magnum opus, the author’s ambitious PhD project also ends well. The extent of the reviewed work exceeds that of an average Dutch doctoral thesis. Nevertheless, the author not only proves his energy and erudition, but also his sense of synthesis.

The reviewed book may rightly be called a reference tool for all those who would like to become more acquainted with the substance of the non-marital registered relationships in the countries examined, as well as for everyone interested in the (complex) problems of international private law on this issue.

Gerd Verschelden
Professor of Family Law
Ghent University, Belgium
October 2006

Cite as: Gerd Verschelden, Review of Ian Curry-Sumner, All's well that ends registered? The Substantive and Private International Law Aspects of Non-Marital Registered Relationships in Europe, vol 10.2 ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW, (October 2006), <http://www.ejcl.org/102/review102-1.html>.

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