Ending a civil partnership

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal union between two people which gives them similar rights and responsibilities to married couples.  Originally introduced in 2004 to allow same sex couples to register their relationship legally, the civil partnership was extended in 2018 to include heterosexual couples.

Why do some couples prefer a civil partnership?

Unlike a conventional marriage, there are no religious connotations attached to civil partnerships and the ceremony takes place in front of a registrar without the exchanging of any vows. Some couples see marriage as an outdated, patriarchal institution compared with a civil partnership meaning that they prefer the more equal ethos which they convey.

Is a civil partnership different from a marriage?

Couples in civil partnerships have the same rights as married couples.  The process for dissolution of a civil partnership is also very similar to the process for a divorce, except that adultery cannot be relied upon as one of the grounds. 

Civil partnership UK

As with divorce proceedings, dissolving a civil partnership is done by a court. We can provide you with information about obtaining a dissolution of a civil partnership in England & Wales. However, obtaining a dissolution in Scotland or in Northern Ireland is different from England & Wales. We will refer you to expert lawyers in those jurisdictions if necessary. 

Before you apply to dissolve your civil partnership

Before you can apply to dissolve your civil partnership in England & Wales, you must have been in your civil partnership for at least a year.  
You will need your original civil partnership certificate or a certified copy as this will be lodged at court when the process is started. 
There are also certain jurisdictional requirements as to habitual residence and/or domicile. If you think this may be an issue, please read our "Forum Choice" page. 

Current grounds for dissolution of civil partnership

Currently, the law only provides one basis for dissolution of a civil partnership, as for a divorce, namely that the civil partnership "has broken down irretrievably". There is no such thing as 'irreconcilable differences' under English law.

However, in order to prove that the civil partnership has "broken down irretrievably", you have to establish one or more of the following 'facts'; that
•    your civil partner has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them (unreasonable behaviour);
•    your civil partner has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the dissolution petition (desertion);
•    you have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the dissolution petition and your civil partner consents to the dissolution being granted (2 years separation by consent);
•    you have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the dissolution petition (5 years separation).

Unlike divorce, "adultery" is not a ground for dissolution of civil partnership.

Preparation of the dissolution of civil partnership papers

Whilst it is possible to apply for a dissolution online, on a "do-it-yourself" basis, obtaining advice from a specialist family law practice will ensure that the dissolution petition and other documents are properly completed.  

The clerks at the court can help, but they cannot give you legal advice on your rights nor on how to complete the civil partnership dissolution documents. Problems can arise if the forms are incorrectly completed.

Filing the civil partnership dissolution petition

The dissolution process is started by one civil partner (then called the "petitioner") lodging a document called a dissolution petition with the court, along with the relevant court fees. The petition sets out the details of the civil partnership, the parties, any children and the grounds for the dissolution. 

If there are children, you will also need a Statement of Arrangements for Children detailing who the children live with, where they go to school etc. 

The court "issues" the petition, stamping it and sending a copy to your civil partner (then called the "respondent").

Acknowledgement of service

When the respondent receives the dissolution petition, they are required to fill in a form, called an acknowledgement of service, to confirm that they have received it and send this back to the court within 7 days. The court forwards a copy to the petitioner.

Contested and uncontested dissolution

If the respondent agrees to the dissolution, it will be called undefended or uncontested. If the respondent does not agree, then it will be called a defended or contested dissolution and the respondent will have a further 21 days to file an Answer at court.

Confirming the petition

The petitioner swears an affidavit (the legal term for a statement under oath), confirming the contents of the petition, which is then sent to the court.

Conditional order

Like a divorce, the procedure for dissolution of civil partnership is two stage, but instead of decree nisi and decree absolute as in a divorce, there is first a conditional order followed by a final order. 

The court checks the documents and, if it is an uncontested dissolution of civil partnership and the documents are approved, will send out a certificate of entitlement to a dissolution. This process is called making a conditional order. A conditional order means that the court is satisfied that the reasons are sufficient for dissolution to be granted. It does not mean that the civil partnership has been dissolved. 

Final order

Six weeks and a day after the date of the conditional order, the petitioner can apply for the "final order" which is the legal document that finally ends the civil partnership. If the petitioner does not apply, then after a further three months, the respondent can apply. The final order is an important document and should be kept in a safe place. 

How long does it take to get a civil partnership dissolution order?

If everything is agreed, and both parties complete and return the documents promptly, the court will normally take between 4 and 6 months to process the dissolution from start to finish.

If there are disagreements, particularly if there is a civil partnership dissolution financial settlement dispute, then it can take longer because the final order may be delayed until the finances have been resolved. 

What other issues need to be dealt?

There may be disagreements over the children or financial claims or for maintenance or child support

We will always try to resolve these either by negotiated agreement between solicitors, or by collaborative law or by mediation.