The author of this post is Julian Henrique Dias Rodrigues, lawyer in Lisbon.
On 27 January 2022, the Lisbon Court of Appeal gave a decision concerning the (non) recognition in Portugal of notarial deeds attesting a de facto union.
A suit for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment (“ação especial de revisão de sentença estrangeira”) was filed in Lisbon in November 2021 by a Portuguese citizen and a British citizen, based on a Declaration of de facto union signed earlier that year before a notary public in London, where the couple lived.
The couple claimed that the above deed corresponds, under English law, to a judgement, and that it confers on the authors of the declaration the status of a relationship equivalent to that of spouses under English law.
The Portuguese Court analyzed the English Civil Partnership Act of 2004 (CPA).
For the Court, the civil partnership corresponding to the Portuguese de facto union is formalised by means of registration before a registry office, which results in the signature of a civil partnership document before the registry officer, with the presence of two witnesses (Article 2, Section 2, of the CPA).
The decision highlights that, under English law, a simple civil partnership agreement does not have any legal force (“does not under the law of England and Wales have effect as a contract giving rise to legal rights”, as stated in Article 75 of the CPA).
The Court acknowledged that it had previously recognized a public deed of de facto union of Brazilian origin. However, according to the reporting magistrate “[t]he legal situation brought in these proceedings is not analogous to the união estável recognized in Brazil. The English legal institute equivalent to the Brazilian stable union, foreseen and regulated in the United Kingdom, is the civil partnership”.
Relying on English legislation and case-law, the Court concluded that the document does not produce legal effects in the English legal order that go beyond the mere evidential force of the declaration. The legal significance of a partnership does not arise from it. That formal declaration is merely an additional element which the authority deciding whether or not to grant a claim based on the partnership will take into account in deciding in favour of the applicant.
In the Court’s view, the Deed in question was something different than a “civil partnership” under British law. For this reason, the Court refers to civil partnership to underline the difference between the situation created by the Deed and the situation of parties to a civil partnership agreement under UK law.
Returning to the Brazilian example, the judgment highlights that
contrary to what happens in Brazil, where the marriage and the ‘união estável’ can be dissolved by notarial deed, in the United Kingdom the divorce and the dissolution of the civil partnership need the intervention of a court according to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and as for the dissolution of the civil partnership, article 37 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004.
In conclusion, the Lisbon Court of Appeal rejected the request as it considered that the “statutory declaration” is not equivalent in the United Kingdom – or in Portugal – to a judgement or judicial decision, not producing the respective effects.
Public Deed of Brazilian de facto Union: Divergence Continues
The Lisbon Court of Appeal issued between 2019 and 2021 a series of judgments admitting the recognition of a public deed of de facto unions established in Brazil, by means of the suit of recognition of foreign judgment. However, there is no consensus on the matter.
In most cases the requests for recognition are made in the context of the acquisition of Portuguese nationality by the de facto union.
At least three judgments of the Supreme Court of Justice (“Supremo Tribunal de Justiça – STJ”) contradict the trend of the Lisbon Court of Appeal (Case 106/18.0YRCBR.S on February 2019, Case 559/18.6YRLSB.S1 on March 2019 and Case 249/18.0YPRT.S2 on December 2019).
For the STJ “the applicants declaration in a Public Declaratory Deed of De Facto Union, before a foreign administrative authority (notary public) that they live in a de facto union since July 2013, should not be considered as covered by the provision of Article 978 no 1, of the Code of Civil Procedure, and cannot be revised and confirmed to produce effects in Portugal” (Case 249/18.0YPRT.S2).
However the divergence remains open in the STJ itself.
By a ruling of 8 September 2020 the Court granted recognition to a declaration of a de facto union, issued before a notary public, and stating “The contracting parties expressly recognize the fact that they have been living as if they were married since January 2005” and that “they have said so, I, the undersigned, have requested and drawn up this instrument, which, having been read aloud and found to be in conformity, they have accepted, granted and signed, together with the witnesses, present at all acts” (Case No. 1884/19.4YRLSB.S1).
To reach this understanding, the reporting magistrate observed that
the Brazilian ‘união estável’ is a fact and not a legal act. The intervention of the public official foreseen in the legal system is constitutive, in the sense of producing effects in the legal order, namely the declarative one of the verification of the situation of de facto union.
As seen above, the matter is likely to continue to be the object of controversy among Portuguese courts.