Civil Partnerships were introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004. They were originally intended to provide a legal status for same sex relationships akin to marriage. (The idea of same sex marriage being a difficult issue politically at the time. (believe it or not!)). Fortunately, the world has moved on since then and The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 allowed same-sex marriage (and therefore: same-sex divorce) from 13 March 2014.
Civil Partnerships were reinvigorated from 2 December 2019, when the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 allowed opposite-sex couples to register a civil partnership in England and Wales. This means that civil partnerships are now a secular version of marriage.
As family lawyers we see the value of marriage/civil partnership in protecting the rights of each party to the marriage/civil partnership and in particular providing a framework through which the relationship can be brought to an end in such a way as to ensure that the needs of any children of the relationship are treated as the first consideration – and where the court has flexibility to make fair decisions as to future financial arrangements.
There is a stark contrast between the flexibility of the law when civil partnerships are dissolved and marriages end in divorce, in comparison to the breakdown of relationships where a couple have lived together as cohabitees (including having children together or buying property or relying upon each other – but without the legal framework/protection of civil partnership or marriage.
The paragraphs below will provide a brief overview of the legal aspects of the dissolution of a civil partnership.
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From a legal point of view the law relating to the dissolution of a civil partnership is essentially the same as the law relating to divorce.
There is however some difference in terminology:
- Marriage is legally ended by the process of divorce. A civil partnership is legally ended by civil partnership dissolution.
- what is a decree nisi in divorce law is called a conditional dissolution order in the law of civil partnership
- what is a decree absolute in divorce law is called a final dissolution order in civil partnership law
- what is called a judicial separation in divorce/marriage law is called a separation order in civil partnership law.
How do I apply for a dissolution of a Civil Partnership?
As with marriage, it is not possible to apply for dissolution of a civil partnership until one year after the date of the civil partnership.
It does not matter where in the world you formalised your relationship – you can only apply for a dissolution in England and Wales if either you or your civil partner meet certain residence conditions or are domiciled here.
The process of dissolution of a Civil Partnership
The dissolution process is generally administrative. As with divorce it is a paper or online process. It is only very rarely that one of the couple will contest the grounds for dissolution and there will be contested proceedings. The scenarios are possible but very rare.
If you find yourself in this situation, we will talk you through what is involved. But contested dissolution proceedings will come at a cost. If there are arguments – these are usually about child arrangements or financial arrangements – but again it is always hoped that sensible negotiation will prevail.
Starting dissolution proceedings
As with divorce, the dissolution process starts with a petition. The process then mirrors the divorce process.
No fault divorce/dissolution is currently due to be available from autumn 2021. Until then grounds for the dissolution need to be shown in the same way as with divorce (except adultery is not a ground for dissolution (unlike divorce)).
The basis for dissolution are:
- that your civil partner has behaved unreasonably
- that your civil partner has deserted you for two years
- that you have lived apart for two years and your civil partner consents to the dissolution, or
- that you have lived apart for five years
The person starting the dissolution is called the petitioner and the other civil partner is called the respondent.
As with divorce, it is always better that if unreasonable behaviour is relied on that the allegations unreasonable behaviour are agreed before the petition is issued. (So as not to increase emotions unnecessarily).
Children and finances
As with divorce, resolving issues relating to child arrangements and finance are separate issues. For finance – please look at our divorce finance pages and the child arrangements please look at our child arrangements pages.
If you are in a civil partnership but it has sadly broken down irretrievably – then we will be happy to assist.
Our team of specialist lawyers also includes Bridget Garrood who is a leading LGBT+ specialist and who is a member of the Law Society Diversity Committee.
Please do contact us if you need some assistance.