Although same sex couples are now able to marry, some may choose to enter into a Civil Partnership, or have already entered into such a relationship. Civil partners are treated exactly the same as married couples in relation to lots of legal issues.
When a civil partnership breaks down the couple have the same right to dissolve that partnership as would a married couple who wish to pursue divorce proceedings. The process is fairly similar but there are some differences and the procedure for dissolving a civil partnership in set out below.
What is the process for dissolving a civil partnership?
There is one ground for dissolution and that is ‘irretrievable breakdown of the civil partnership’. The Court must be satisfied that this is the case and in order to prove irretrievable breakdown you must rely on one of 4 ‘facts’. These are;
- unreasonable behaviour by your civil partner
- your civil partner left your home more than two years ago, also called ‘desertion’
- you have been separated for at least two years and you both agree to the dissolution
- you have been separated for at least five years (this fact does not require the other party’s agreement)
What is meant by unreasonable behaviour?
Unreasonable behaviour means that your civil partner is behaving in such a way that you cannot be expected to live with them anymore. The behaviour maybe lots of smaller incidents which have taken place over the course of many months or years or it maybe a more serious single incident. The behaviour can include physical violence or abuse, financial abuse or recklessness, emotional or psychological abuse or unfaithfulness.
What is meant by desertion?
You can rely on desertion as proof that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down if your partner left your home at least 2 years ago. You will need to show that they left without your agreement and without good reason. They must have deserted the relationship for a period of 2 years within the last 2 ½ years. The desertion must also have been intended to end the relationship.
What is meant by separation?
Separation means that you have been living apart and usually in separate households for a period of two years. It is possible to demonstrate that you have been living separately within the same household if you can show that you have not been sleeping together, cooking and eating together, cleaning or undertaking laundry for each other. You will essentially need to show that you have not been living together as civil partners.
If you both agree that you have been separated for 2 years then this fact can be relied upon to dissolve the partnership. In respect of a 5 year separation there is no need to obtain your partner’s consent to this.
The Procedure for Dissolving a Civil Partnership
The first point to consider is the length of the civil partnership. It should be noted that dissolution proceedings cannot take place within the first year of the partnership.
- Once you have decided that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down you will need to select the fact upon which you are going to rely in order to prove the breakdown. Once that has been decided upon a Dissolution Petition will need to be completed. This will contain information about the parties to include full names, dates of birth, addresses, date of the civil partnership to further include where the civil partnership ceremony took place. (The civil partnership certificate will need to be attached to the petition when it is sent to the Court. It must be an original and not a photocopy.) The petition will importantly include details of the fact upon which you wish to rely. The petition will also include any claim for costs that you wish to make against your partner (who is referred to as the Respondent).
- If there are children of the civil partnership a Statement of Information for Children will also need to be completed. The Court will want to be satisfied that any children of the relationship are catered for and appropriate arrangements made for their residence and contact following the separation and eventual dissolution of the partnership.
- It is good practice to send a draft of the petition to your partner or their appointed Solicitor before it is issued with the Court. This provides your partner with an opportunity to comment upon the petition and suggest any amendments that they think are appropriate. It is also a good opportunity to agree the issue of costs if possible. It is usual practice for the costs to shared equally although this is not always the case. It is helpful to agree the issue of costs early on and have this recorded in the petition before it is issued.
- The papers are then sent to the Court to be issued. A set of the papers will be sent directly to your partner or their appointed Solicitor. At the same time the Court will produce a Notice of Issue of Petition which is a notice confirming to the Petitioner that the petition has been issued and confirming the date upon which the petition was sent to your civil partner.
- With the sealed papers your partner will receive a form called the Acknowledgement of Service. This form must be completed by you partner and returned to the Court within a fixed period of time. The Acknowledgement is a question and answer form which provides the Court with information about when the petition was received, whether your partner agrees that the Courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction to hear the dissolution proceedings and also whether the Respondent intends to contest the dissolution. Contested dissolutions and indeed divorces are fairly rare. This is because they are very difficult to defend successfully and the cost involved can be prohibitive.
- Once the Respondent has returned the Acknowledgement of Service the Court produce a sealed copy and this is sent to the Petitioner or the Petitioner’s Solicitors. The Petitioner is then is a position to apply for a Conditional Order. This is the first official stage of the dissolution process. The Petitioner will need to complete a Statement In Support of Dissolution and an Application for Dissolution. The statement confirms that everything in the petition remains true. If any details from the Petition have now changed such as addresses etc this is the form which is used to notify the Court of changes since the Petition was issued. The Application for a Conditional Order is the form which requests that the Court now consider whether the civil partnership has come to an end.
- When the Statement in Support and Application for a Conditional Order are filed with the Court the papers are placed before the District Judge. The District Judge will consider the paperwork and decide whether the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. If the Judge is satisfied that the civil partnership has broken down then a Certificate of Entitlement to a Conditional Order is made. This Certificate will provide the Petitioner and Respondent with notice of the date and time upon which the Conditional Order will be pronounced in Court. The Judge at this stage will also consider whether there are any children involved and if so whether the Court needs to exercise it’s power under the Children Act 1989. In most cases the Court does not need to intervene because the parties have made appropriate arrangements for the children. If this is the case a further certificate is issued by the Court which we commonly refer to as the s.41 Certificate.
- On the date that the Conditional Order is to be pronounced no-one will need to attend Court. It is at this stage that the Court will also make any requested Orders in relation to costs. The District Judge will be able to take this information from the Dissolution Petition. The Conditional Order will then be sent to the Petitioner and the Respondent as well as any Costs Orders if that has been requested by the Petitioner.
- After the Conditional Order has been made the Civil Partnership still exists, it has not yet been dissolved. In order to bring the Civil Partnership to an end you must apply for a Final Order. The earliest date upon which you can apply for a Final Order is 6 weeks and 1 day after the date of the Conditional Order. The Respondent can apply for the Final Order if the Petitioner has failed to do so but they are prevented from applying until a further 3 months has passed over and above the earliest date upon which the Petitioner could apply.
- The Final Order has the effect of ending or dissolving the Civil Partnership. You are then free to enter another civil partnership if you wished to. It is important to keep the Order safe as you may need to this prove your status when applying for benefits or dealing with pensions.
How long does it take to dissolve a Civil Partnership?
If matters are straightforward the process can take somewhere between 4 to 6 months. This is usually where you are both agreed upon the fact that is to be used when the petition is presented to the Court. It also helps if there are no disagreements about the costs and the Respondent is co-operative in completing the Acknowledgement of Service. Matters tend to become protracted when there are arguments about the civil partnerships finances and how these are to be dealt with now that the relationship has broken down. Where there are complex finances involved or where the dispute is very acrimonious it is not unusual for the dissolution and financial matters to take somewhere between 18 months and 2 years to complete. For more information about how to resolve financial disputes arising from the breakdown in your civil partnership please visit our Civil Partnership Finance page.