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.
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 Some couples see marriage as an outdated, patriarchal institution compared with a civil partnership meaning that they prefer the more equal ethos which they convey.
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.
As of 6 April 2022 there is no longer a need to rely on one 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).
Now all you need to do is provide a statement (in practical terms tick a box) to state the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
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 application 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 application
The dissolution process is started by one civil partner (then called the “applicant”) lodging an application with the court, along with the relevant divorce court fees.
You can have a joint application from 6 April 2022 and if so you will have applicant 1 and applicant 2. Applicant 1 completes the application and it is sent to applicant 2 for approval.
The application sets out the details of the civil partnership, the parties and confirmation that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.
The court “issues” the application and if you are not making a joint application at this stage sends a copy to your civil partner (then called the “respondent”).
Acknowledgement of service
If the application is made by one civil partner when the respondent receives the dissolution application, 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 14 days. The court forwards a copy to the applicant.
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. Since 6 April 2022 there are extremely limited circumstances that a divorce can be defended/contested and no longer will a civil partner be able to argue that the civil partnership has simply not broken down.
Cooling off period and confirming the application
There is a 20 week cooling off period from the date application is issued until the applicant can progress the dissolution. This is to allow time for reflection. Once these 20 weeks have passed the applicant has to complete a statement confirming the contents of the application, which is then sent to the court.
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 application is sufficient for dissolution to be granted. It does not mean that the civil partnership has been dissolved.
Six weeks and a day after the date of the conditional order, the applicant can apply for the “final order” which is the legal document that brings the civil partnership to an end. If the applicant 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.
If everything is agreed, and both parties complete and return the documents promptly, the court will normally take between 6-9 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. Obtaining the final order before the finances are resolved may lead to negative financial consequences and we therefore strongly recommend you take legal advice before proceeding.