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Civil partnership dissolution

Just as people in a civil partnership benefit from the same rights as married couples in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance; ending a civil partnership provides the same entitlements as a spouse who gets divorced.

As with divorce proceedings, dissolving a civil partnership is completed by the court. Obtaining a dissolution in England and Wales is different from dissolution in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

As part of the process you can apply for financial provision by way of lump sum, property transfer, maintenance and pension sharing orders. 

Financial provision can also be applied for in respect of any child or children of the family.

Dissolving a civil partnership

  • What is a civil partnership?

    A civil partnership is a legal union between two people which gives the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple. Introduced in 2014, most often this is between same sex couples, but in 2018 the law was extended to include heterosexual couples.

  • What is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

    A civil partnership ceremony takes place in front of a registrar but there is no exchange of vows and there are no religious connotations.

    Couples in civil partnerships have the same rights as married couples.

  • Grounds for civil partnership dissolution

    A condition for ending a civil partnership is that the relationship has irretrievably broken down due to one of 4 grounds: 

    • Unreasonable behaviour (i.e. your civil partner has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them anymore).
    • Desertion for a period of two years or more
    • Two years’ separation, with the partner’s consent
    • Five years’ separation, without the partner’s consent

    Unlike divorce, you cannot use the grounds of adultery, as the legal definition of adultery states that a sexual relationship between a man and a woman is required in order to qualify. If your partner has been unfaithful, then this would fall under the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ ground for dissolution.

  • What counts as “unreasonable behaviour”?

    Some of the most common reasons are listed below:

    • Abusive behaviour, physical, verbal or mental
    • Debt / financial recklessness
    • Inappropriate relationship or suspicious of affairs
    • Unreasonable sexual demands
    • Addiction
    • Family disputes
    • Spending too much time at work/socialising/exercising
    • Refusing to discuss relationship issues

    Allegations of unreasonable behaviour must be sufficient to satisfy a judge to accept them and grant the divorce. However, it is considered good practice to include only as much as is needed to satisfy the test, rather than to include significant detail which may inflame the situation. You will need to provide specific examples about what, when and how it made you feel. 

    As with the ground of adultery, there is a time limit associated with unreasonable behaviour. It is worth noting that if you use unreasonable behaviour as a ground for dissolution, then if you have lived together for more than six months after the last instance of unreasonable behaviour, it may cause problems with using this ground. A court may consider that you didn’t find the behaviour unreasonable enough to leave and therefore they may reject your application.

Stages of civil partnership dissolution

  • Stages of dissolution - need to know

    The process of dissolution can be done online, but we would always recommend seeking the advice of a family lawyer who specialises in civil partnership dissolution.

    Here at Stowe Family Law we frequently work with clients to dissolve civil partnerships and will advise you on the most effective and efficient process for you, taking your circumstances into account

  • Completing the dissolution petition

    To begin with you must complete the dissolution petition form (Form D8) then send it to the nearest court that deals with civil partnerships.  You can find your nearest divorce court here.

    As a matter of good practice, you may also wish to send a copy of the petition to your ex-partner in draft before it is sent to the court. 

    This is with a view to the content being agreed and to encourage an amicable approach to be adopted from the outset.

    If you have started the dissolution process, you are the “petitioner” and your spouse is the “respondent”.

    You will need your original civil partnership certificate (or a certified copy).

    There is a court fee currently of £593.

    This petition filed at court sets out the details of the civil partnership, the parties involved and the grounds for dissolution.

    The court will issue the petition and send a copy to you and your civil partner (the respondent).

  • Completing the Acknowledgement of Service

    The respondent then completes the form, to confirm that they have received the dissolution petition and that they will not be defending the petition, before returning it to the court.

    Your partner must send back the Acknowledgement of Service form to court within 7 days of receiving it, agreeing to the dissolution. The court will then send you a copy of that Acknowledgement.

    If your partner does not agree to the dissolution, they will have a further 21 days to file an Answer to court. This is called a defended or contested dissolution.

  • Conditional order

    There are two stages of divorce in a marriage: the decree nisi and then the decree absolute ending the marriage. In a civil partnership, the two stages are: a conditional order followed by a final order.

    The conditional order is a document that states there is no reason why your civil partnership should not be dissolved. 

    When applying for the conditional order, a statement in support of dissolution must be sent to the court as well. The purpose of that form is to confirm that the content of your petition is still accurate. 

    The court will check all the documents and, if everything is approved, they will issue a certificate of entitlement to dissolution and it confirms the date upon which the conditional order will be granted at a hearing. This is a public hearing and one which parties do not need to attend. The civil partnership is not dissolved at this stage.

  • Final order

    You can apply for a final order six weeks and a day after the date of the conditional order.

    Sometimes, it is advisable to hold off from making this application, such as when financial matters are yet to be resolved. You should take advice from your family lawyer about this. 

    Applying for a final order is the final stage as this document officially ends your civil partnership.

    The final order is an important document which should be kept safely.

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

    A court will normally take between 4 – 6 months to process a dissolution, provided that all documents are returned promptly and that everything is agreed between both parties.

    Defended dissolution proceedings are very costly and as such, are thankfully rare. 

    Delays happen if finances have not been fully resolved. In order to protect your financial assets, we always advise you to resolve your money matters at the same time as dissolving your civil partnership. This may mean delaying the application for a final order until everything has been resolved.

  • How much does a civil partnership dissolution cost?

    As the petitioner, you will need to pay the court fee of £593. The costs that you incur in relation to the dissolution can, however, be sought from your ex-partner or an agreement can be reached in relation to a contribution towards the same.

    If you instruct a lawyer to help with the dissolution, you will have additional legal costs for their service.

  • What happens if my partner does not agree to end the civil partnership?

    If you were relying on your partner’s behaviour to obtain the dissolution, then your partner would not need to agree to the divorce proceeding. This is also true if you rely on 5 years of separation or desertion. It is only the 2-year separation rule that requires the consent of the partner.  

    The only document that the respondent is required to complete and return is the acknowledgment of service form. If they do not cooperate and do this, then alternate methods of service can be looked into, such as having them personally served. 

    Once service has been affected, the dissolution can progress to the next stage assuming that the partner is not defending the dissolution. 

    Defended dissolution or divorce proceedings are extremely rare because of the associated costs.

  • Can I separate from my civil partner without getting a dissolution?

    Yes, you can separate without dissolving the partnership. Indeed, some couples choose to separate and then wait for two years so that can be the basis of the petition instead of relying on a fault-based ground (behaviour). 

    However, as a word of warning, if the finances are dealt with at the point of separation, it is important to have a document known as a separation agreement, drawn up to reflect what assets have been distributed. 

    This is because the court is not able to make an order (which is a binding and enforceable agreement) until the dissolution proceedings have reached the stage where the conditional order has been made. 

    It is the conditional order that empowers the court to deal with any financial claims. Whilst a separation agreement is not binding, it would serve as evidence of the agreement reached between the parties and could (by agreement) be transferred into a ‘consent order’ when the parties dissolve the partnership.

What are my financial rights after ending a civil partnership?

It is often the financial matters that are more complicated to resolve. You must take advice in relation to the financial matters when you are dealing with the dissolution of your civil partnership.

Potential claims that arise from the partnership can be from any capital, income and pensions.  A solicitor will be able to advise you about your settlement options and negotiate on your behalf.

Each case will be decided on its own circumstances, and that is why it is important to seek professional advice so that the settlement is fair.

In addition, it is also important to deal with the claims at the time of separation as they will otherwise outlive the dissolution. This could result in a claim for assets being made against you by your ex-partner in the future even if you have been separated by formal order.

Even in circumstances where there are no assets to distribute, it is important that the claims are dismissed to prevent any future claims being made if your financial position changes, for example, inheritance.

What happens with arrangements for the children?

Resolving child arrangements is a complex area of family law. The children within the relationship may be foster children, children born from surrogacy (including donor insemination) and/or step-parenting.  All of these areas require specialist advice, so please consult with a family lawyer.

How can mediation help?

Mediation is often used by separating couples to negotiate with one another with the assistance of an independent and neutral third party; the mediator. 

It can offer a more amicable and cost-effective resolution and provides couples with pragmatic guidance and legal information to help them reach their agreements. 

You can use the services of a mediator to help you end your civil partnership and to agree on issues including finances, property and children arrangements whilst avoiding potentially lengthy legal negotiations.

No fault divorce

The new No Fault divorce has been passed through parliament on 25 June 2020 and is due to come into force in April 2022. This will mean that it will no longer be necessary for couples who wish to dissolve their civil partnership to attribute blame to their partner.

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