Civil Partnership Dissolution
Civil partnerships were created by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, and remained the only option for same-sex couples until same-sex marriage was legalised in March 2014. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that allowing civil partnerships to same-sex couples, but not to opposite sex couples, is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result the UK government recently said they will be made available to opposite sex couples as well, but that has not yet happened.
The process for dissolving a civil partnership is very similar to the process for obtaining a divorce, with some very minor modifications, and changes of vocabulary so the information on the rest of this website is equally applicable.
The law concerning any financial issues between separating civil partners is also similar to that applied to a divorcing couple. So the courts seek to achieve a “fair settlement” between the parties, and with the same scope for maintenance orders, orders transferring assets between the parties and pension sharing. The information on this website about resolving the financial issues which arise on divorce applies equally on dissolution of a civil partnership.
How to dissolve a civil partnership
The decision to dissolve your civil partnership, is a major life choice, and it is not one you will take without thinking very carefully. But, once you have made that choice, you will find that the legal process does not question your choice, or ask you to justify it.
The law does not try to establish the real reasons for the breakdown of your partnership, or to apportion responsibility for it.
Like getting divorced, dissolving a civil partnership, is a legal process which involves a court. Guided by a skilled solicitor you will not need actually to go to court, it is done through the post. If the process is handled properly it should take about five or six months from the start of the process, to reach the point where the court office is ready to send you your final decree of dissolution, which is the document confirming that you are no longer civil partners.
An overview of the process of dissolving a civil partnership.
The process involves filling in a series of forms. You do not need your partner’s permission, but his/her cooperation is always helpful. Involves
The government is piloting a scheme to replace the paper forms with an online process, to streamline the Courts Administration
Dissolving a civil partnership usually costs about £500 or £600 in solicitor’s fees, and you have to pay a court fee of £525 as well. In theory you do not have to use a solicitor, you can do it yourself. But you would be wise to use a solicitor, particularly if you wish your partnership to be dissolved reasonably quickly, or if financial issues between you and your partner are potentially complicated.
You should also be aware that some people have made mistakes in their divorce petition which means that the divorce issued to them by the court office is void. That can cause real problems, particularly if they have remarried because the second marriage would be void. Although I am not aware of this having happened to civil partners, the same principle would apply
How to fill in your petition and start dissolution proceedings
To start the process you fill in a a request for dissolution, known as an application. The form itself appears deceptively simple. Simple mistakes in the way it is filled in can have serious long-term consequences. Most of the information required is straightforward, such as names and dates of birth, but you must also specify the basis on which you are asking the court to dissolve your civil partnership. That can be a strategically important decision.
There are four possible bases on which a court may dissolve a civil partnership, and you state your choice in the petition. The options are:
My civil partner has behaved in such a way that I cannot reasonably be expected to live with her/him.
We have lived apart for two years before the date of the petition, and we both agree that our civil partnership should be dissolved.
My civil partner has deserted me for two years.
We have lived apart for five years.
It is important to understand that the option you choose will make no difference at all to the outcome of any financial dispute between you and your civil partner. The process does not aim to establish the real reason why your relationship has broken down, and it certainly does not try to apportion responsibility for that between you.
The person who sends the application to the court office becomes “the applicant” and the other person becomes “the respondent. But It makes no real practical difference – the outcome is the same for both.
Choosing the grounds for dissolving a civil partnership.
The first two options are the most popular. If you and your civil partner have already lived apart for 2 years and mutually agree that your partnership should be dissolved, then option two is probably the most appropriate. But if you have only just separated and you want or need to have a dissolution reasonably quickly, option one is likely to be most appropriate.
Option one (unreasonable behaviour) is the default option for many. It is appropriate if you have not lived apart for two years or if you are not confident that your civil partner will cooperate. You will need to give some examples of his/her unacceptable behaviour, but it need not be particularly serious. If the application is drafted by a skilled family law solicitor, a few complaints about your domestic arrangements and your partner's irritating habits will usually be sufficient. If your partner has formed an intimate relationship with someone else that could form one of the particulars in a petition under option one. The best strategy is not to make complaints which will particularly upset him/her, but you need to be confident that it will be accepted by the judge who considers your request for dissolution, and also that it will achieve the desired outcome in the perhaps unlikely circumstance that your partner decides to try to defend.
When can I start the process of dissolving my civil partnership?
The court rules say that you must send the draft application to your partner before you send it to the court office, so that s/he has opportunity to comment on it. Usually a few days is sufficient. You then send it to the court office, where the staff will eventually date stamp it and post it on to him/her.
You can’t send the application to the court until you have been in a civil partnership for a year.
Your partner will receive a copy of the application through the post from the court office. It comes with a fairly simple form known as an “acknowledgement service”. Essentially the form invites him/her to confirm receipt and confirm a few simple points. It is usually best if s/he takes advice from a solicitor at this point, so that s/he can understand the documentation and, hopefully, feel comfortable with the process.
Hopefully s/he will then send the form back to the court office. If s/he doesn’t, the process becomes slightly more complicated and expensive.
If you are the recipient of an application for dissolution of your civil partnership from the court office, you should seek our advice quickly. We can advise you how best to respond to the application, and we can also advise you about other issues, particularly the financial consequences of dissolving your civil partnership.
Applying for conditional decree.
The court office will send you a copy of the acknowledgement of service form, and the next step is for you to complete another form which you send in, asking the judge to approve your dissolution. The judge then checks the paperwork, and assuming everything is in order, s/he issues a certificate of approval, and notifies you of a date for your conditional decree.
At the conditional decree the judge will, literally, pronounce your decree of dissolution in a courtroom, along with many other people’s decrees. You are not expected to go to court yourself for this, and you will receive the decree with a short explanatory note through the post.
Applying for final decree
Six weeks after the date of the conditional decree you can apply for your final decree which is the document which finally dissolves your civil partnership. The application is very simple, and it is usually processed within a couple of days.
If you were the respondent to the petition, and your civil partner gets a conditional decree nisi but does not apply for final decree, you may do so. You have to wait four and a half months from the date of the conditional decree . It is a slightly complicated court application which usually involves a court hearing before the judge, and you should seek advice from a solicitor before taking that step.
Once you have your final decree you are each free to enter another civil partnership or marry. If you were the respondent, or if you drafted the application yourself without getting proper legal advice you can seriously damage your financial position by doing this, so you should seek proper advice from a solicitor first.
It may be wise to postpone your application for final decree, particularly if financial issues between you and your civil partner have not been properly resolved by that stage. You should take advice about this.