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Civil Partnership Dissolution
If you and your civil partner are separating, you may be looking for answers to a whole series of questions. We understand that dealing with the legal formalities to end your civil partnership is only part of the process so, whatever stage you are at - whether that’s considering separation, starting the dissolution process or you are already in discussions about the future - we can help.
Ending Your Civil Partnership
After you have been in a civil partnership for one year, you can apply for a dissolution if your relationship has irretrievably broken down. This is demonstrated using one of the following four ‘facts’:
- One party’s behaviour
- Two years’ separation plus the consent of both parties
- Five years’ separation (consent not required)
It is not possible to begin dissolution proceedings on the basis of adultery. However, if either party has been unfaithful, this could form the basis of a ‘behaviour’ application. A ‘no fault’ civil partnership dissolution system is planned but this change has not yet come into law.
Dissolving your civil partnership is a largely administrative procedure. Although the court makes the actual orders, very few couples have to go before a judge to obtain a dissolution.
To help you better understand the steps involved when going through a civil partnership dissolution, we have put together an interactive guide. Although every dissolution is different, our guide provides a basic, easy-to-understand run-through of what you can expect when going through the process.
Explore our interactive guide here.
In a small number of cases, a civil partnership may be void or voidable. In this instance, the parties need to apply for a nullity order.
A civil partnership would be void if it had a fundamental legal problem from the start, for example, if one party was too young to enter legally into a civil partnership. On certain grounds, such as either party being put under undue pressure to go ahead with the ceremony, a civil partnership can be voidable.
A nullity order can be obtained at any time and it is not necessary to wait for one year after the ceremony. However, the grounds for obtaining an order are highly specific and potentially complex.
If you do not wish to dissolve your civil partnership, it is possible to obtain a separation order instead. Applications for separation orders are rare and it is really important to get legal advice before proceeding. The legal and financial consequences of a separation order are similar to but different from those of civil partnership dissolution.
If you have children, we will work with you to assess whether you need our assistance to put in place a sustainable routine for them after separation. For more information, visit our dedicated page.
We have a proven track record of helping a diverse range of clients achieve the best possible resolution of the financial aspects of their civil partnership dissolution. For more information, visit our Money section.
Civil Partnership Dissolution and Jurisdiction
Where civil partners have connections with nations other than England and Wales, there may be more than one jurisdiction able to deal with their dissolution. Civil partners may face additional difficulties in many countries if there is no legal status equivalent to civil partnership available in a given state.
Special provisions exist to enable civil partnerships registered in England and Wales to be dissolved if jurisdiction cannot be established elsewhere.
Different countries treat the financial aspects of civil partnership very differently and, in some cases, will not deal with them at all. You may need to act urgently to secure the most favourable jurisdiction. Visit our jurisdiction page for more information.
Does the reason for the dissolution have any effect on the financial settlement?
In all but the most extreme cases, the reasons for your dissolution will have no effect on the financial outcome. Although the dissolution application may have been based on one party’s fault, for example their behaviour, money is dealt with on a largely “no fault” basis, except in circumstances where misconduct has been very extreme or has led to an objectively significant financial consequence.
I have been served with civil partnership dissolution papers. What should I do next?
There are time limits for responding to an application, which should be complied with. In some cases - for example, if there is a choice of jurisdictions in which the dissolution could take place - these time limits can be crucially important. If you have received dissolution papers, get in touch and we’ll work with you to identify the next steps.
What is a conditional order?
This is the first of two orders in the proceedings and is equivalent to a decree nisi in divorce proceedings. In most cases, after the dissolution application has been sent to the other party, they will acknowledge receipt and allow the dissolution to proceed on an uncontested basis. The person who began the proceedings confirms the contents of their application and sends a form asking the court to grant the conditional order. There is a more complex procedure for the handful of cases each year in which the dissolution itself is contested.
Provided all the paperwork is in order and no technical problems are identified, the court will set a date for making the condition order, which just means reading it out in court. Neither party has to be present for this unless there is a dispute about costs. Once a conditional order has been granted, the court has the power to make a financial order dealing with the money, whether this has been reached by agreement or following a contested court process.
What is a final order?
This is the second of two orders in the proceedings and is equivalent to a decree absolute in divorce proceedings. Once the conditional order has been granted, the person who began proceedings can apply for the final order six weeks and one day later.
In most cases, clients will be advised to delay applying for the final order until an order dealing with the financial aspects of the dissolution has been approved and stamped by the court. Once the final order has been granted, the civil partnership comes to an end and is said to be ‘dissolved’.
Do I have to go to court to get a civil partnership dissolution?
Only the court can grant dissolutions but, in reality, the process takes place either online or by paperwork passing between the parties and the court. Only a tiny minority of cases need substantive input from a judge and very few couples actually have to attend court to deal with the dissolution itself.
Can I reach a financial settlement without dissolution?
You can agree to the financial aspects of a separation without dissolving your civil partnership using a separation agreement, but the only way to get a final and binding settlement is to obtain a financial court order after the conditional order has been granted within the civil partnership dissolution proceedings. This financial order can either be agreed by the parties or decided by a judge after a contested court process.
The court order must be approved and stamped by a judge otherwise it is not valid. It then becomes legally binding at the point of the final order in dissolution proceedings, after which the civil partnership comes to an official end.
How long does a dissolution take?
We normally anticipate that the procedure from application to final order will take between four and six months. In most cases, clients are advised to delay their final order until a financial order has been approved and stamped by the court. As financial negotiations and/or contested proceedings can take some time, particularly if a case is complex, this can mean that the dissolution takes longer.
Are civil partnership dissolution records public?
The final order dissolving or bringing to an end a civil partnership is publicly accessible. The document shows the parties’ names, the date and venue at which their civil partnership was formed and the date of the final order. No documents specifying the reasons for the breakdown of the civil partnership or the fact on which the dissolution was based are generally available.
If you cannot find your final order and need to obtain an official copy, there are a variety of options, depending on what details you have. Start with the government website.
Can a civil partnership dissolution be reversed?
In most cases, a couple who were in a civil partnership and have received the final order dissolving their civil partnership cannot undo this. If they wish to be in a civil partnership once again (or marry), they will need to go through a fresh ceremony as if for the first time.
Before the final order stage, the parties can halt the dissolution of their civil partnership if they have reconciled. The exact procedure will depend on what stage the process has reached. If a conditional order has been granted already, there is a specific application that must be made.
The court can set aside a conditional or, occasionally, a final order when there is a serious problem with the process or with the civil partnership itself. This includes cases of fraud, or where there are legal problems with the civil partnership that call its actual existence into question. Occasionally, either party may argue that the civil partnership has already been dissolved in another country.
If this could be an issue, or if there are issues generally as to which country’s courts should deal with the case, you need to take immediate, specialist advice from us as the consequences of getting things wrong can be substantial. Visit our page on jurisdiction for more guidance.
Can I recover civil partnership dissolution costs?
If someone has applied for a civil partnership dissolution using one of the fault ‘facts’ - behaviour or desertion - they can recover a proportion of their legal costs, including the court fee. There is very little point in debating the amount of costs claimed through the courts as it is disproportionate to the sums involved. For that reason, we always advise our clients to negotiate an agreed figure for costs. Remember that when we talk about costs here we mean those associated with preparing and progressing the dissolution.
A dissolution application based on two or five years’ separation will almost always result in each party bearing their own costs, unless they agree to something different.
Any costs associated with finances and child arrangements are dealt with separately from the dissolution. The general rule is that the parties are responsible for their own costs of taking legal advice. The factual basis for the dissolution very rarely impacts on financial matters and/or child arrangements. To find out more about “conduct” and its relationship to financial settlements, see our article on the topic. The legal precedents in this area are based on divorce cases but the principles apply equally to civil partnership dissolution.