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Civil Partnership Dissolution: Dissolving a Civil Partnership & How it Works

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal union of either a same sex couple or a couple of the opposite sex. A civil partnership gives the relationship legal recognition in a similar way to a marriage. However, there are some noticeable differences between a civil partnership and a marriage – and therefore differences in how these unions come to an end in relation to a civil partnership dissolution and a divorce – as set out below.

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

Traditionally, marriage had religious connotations, and still does for many who decide to marry.  Part of the marriage process involves the exchanging of vows. Civil partnerships differ from marriage as there is a non-religious civil union, and a civil partnership is formed by signing the civil partnership document. When civil partnerships were first introduced in England and Wales in 2005 and they provided legal recognition and protection in relation to the union of same-sex couples.

Do you get divorced from a civil partnership?

Legally, you do not get ‘divorced’ from a civil partnership. The correct term for a civil partnership divorce is a ‘dissolution’. If the civil partnership breaks down, then the couple needs to follow a legal process in order to dissolve the civil partnership. A divorce relates to the legal process to end a marriage and a ‘dissolution’ is the term used with reference to the ending of a civil partnership.

In 2014 a heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, wanted to form a civil partnership but were unable to, as at the time, they were restricted to same sex couples only. Rebecca and Charles challenged this decision by way of a judicial review at the High Court, and in 2018 they finally received the legal ruling that they had been waiting for. It was declared in a unanimous vote by the 5 Judges at the Supreme Court that the refusal by they Government to allow opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships was against Human Rights Law.

Whilst legally marriage and civil partnerships have binding legal consequences, people can view the two different types of union in a very different way.

How does a civil partnership end?

Dissolving a civil partnership is very similar to a divorce. You must have been in the civil partnership for a minimum of 1 year before you can apply for dissolution. If the minimum period of 1 year has passed, then either one of the couple can complete a dissolution application, and send the form – together with the civil partnership certificate – to the nearest Court dealing with civil partnership dissolution with the relevant Court fee.

How do I end my civil partnership?

To legally end a civil partnership, you need to apply to the court for a dissolution order. Currently, you have to prove to the court that your civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.

If there are no objections to ending the civil partnership and all is legally in order, the Court will grant a conditional order, which states that the Court does not see any reason why the civil partnership cannot end. This is the first of two stages to getting the civil partnership dissolved.

If your partner doesn’t want to end the civil partnership

If one of the couple objects to the ending of the civil partnership, then when the application for a conditional order is made, then the Court will list the matter for a hearing to discuss the case and decide whether to grant the conditional order or not.

6 weeks and 1 day from the date of the conditional order, the original applicant within the proceedings can apply to the Court for a final order, and upon the granting of that order, the civil partnership is dissolved.

If the original applicant does not apply for a final order, then the other party to the partnership can make the application 3 months and 6 weeks after the date of the conditional order.

If no application for a final order is made within 12 months of the conditional order being granted, then an additional application has to be made in order to explain to the Court the reasons for the delay.

In reality, the final order can sometimes be delayed whilst the couple sort out and finalise the separation of their financial circumstances.

Can I end my civil partnership without a solicitor?

The simple answer is no. You can complete the dissolution paperwork online yourself or use an online agent for a fee.  The court fee for making the dissolution application will be the same whatever route you choose.  Generally, the more important aspects of getting a civil partnership dissolution relate to sorting out your finances and, should you have any children, agreeing child arrangements. However, having a solicitor to deal with all the paperwork and correspondence with the court can help reduce the stress involved in the process at a time when emotions are already running high. A solicitor can also communicate with your ex-partner so that you don’t have to.

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

In terms of the dissolution itself, this very much depends on how long the application takes to move through the court and there is no set time frame. At the time of writing, the courts are experiencing delays in processing such applications, however you can apply online, which may be quicker than the traditional paper application route.

The length of time it takes to dissolve a civil partnership will also depend on how long it takes the couple to reach an agreement in relation to financial matters.

How much does it cost to end a civil partnership?

At Hawkins Family Law we currently charge between £500 – £600 plus VAT for the work undertaken in relation to a straightforward dissolution of a civil partnership. There will also be the court fee.

Extra work concerning related matters, such as sorting out the financial situation upon the dissolution, is charged separately and is not included in the above figure, as the costs of sorting out the finances can vary greatly from case to case. We can give tailored estimates of costs in relation to the separation of finances to each client.

For what reasons can I end my civil partnership?

At present, it must be shown to the court that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down and cannot be saved. If you can prove this and want to legally end your civil partnership, then you can apply to the court for a dissolution order. When applying to the court you need to use one of the following to illustrate why your civil partnership has come to an end:

  1. Your partner has behaved unreasonably – this should be behaviour such that you feel that it is impossible to live with your partner any more as a result. Examples of unreasonable behaviour should be given, as well as details of how that behaviour made you feel. Unreasonable behaviour does not have to extreme but can be a number of things that may seem less serious, but which, cumulatively, make you feel that your partner’s behaviour is intolerable overall. It is better to try to agree the unreasonable behaviour with your partner before issuing the application for dissolution, as if you don’t, you may find that your partner objects to what you have stated and the whole process is then slowed down.
  2. Living apart – if you have both lived apart for at least 2 years then you can rely on this fact, provided both partners agree to the dissolution. If only one agrees to the dissolution, then a period of 5 years living apart has to have passed before the application for a dissolution can be made on the basis of living apart. If the court feel that the dissolution of the civil partnership, based on living apart for 5 years, would cause serious financial hardship or other hardship to the partner, then the court may refuse to grant the order.
  3. Desertion – this fact can be relied upon if your partner deserted you at least 2 years ago. Desertion can, however, be difficult to prove.

With the facts of living apart and desertion, the couple can resume living together for up to 6 months in total, but this time will not count towards the period of separation or desertion.

If you would like to speak to one of our family lawyers about either a civil partnership or a divorce, then please contact us today.

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