When a relationship has run its course, it’s rarely a case of packing a bag and leaving without looking back.
There are usually a great many ties to unpick. There are emotions to work through and practicalities to sort out. And where the relationship is a marriage or a civil partnership, there is a legal process for the couple to go through to draw things to an official end and enable each person, and their children, to move on.
That process, in the case of marriage, is divorce. The equivalent for civil partnerships is ‘dissolution’.
What does civil partnership dissolution involve in England and Wales?
Your civil partnership must have lasted at least a year before you can (individually, or jointly with your partner) apply to the court to end it.
People tend to apply individually where their partner is uncooperative; the partner either doesn’t want to dissolve the civil partnership, or they’re unlikely to properly engage with the process. Joint applications happen where you both agree to the dissolution and where there is no risk of domestic abuse. It’s possible to start the application jointly and then for it to continue as an individual application if your partner stops cooperating.
The application can be online or by post and it carries a court fee (currently £593). There are then three stages. The first is the conditional order. This is essentially the court’s go-ahead to continue with the dissolution application. You can’t apply for a conditional order straightaway; you must wait until 20 weeks have passed since applying for dissolution. It’s worth noting that, as with divorce, there is no need to attribute fault; an application for dissolution can simply be based on the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.
The second stage is: applying for an order that sets out how assets, like property, savings and pensions are to be divided. This should also include any ongoing obligations, such as maintenance payments, and arrangements for children, including where they will live and how time should be spent with each parent. We always encourage clients to try to agree these things with their partner, because that way they retain control of the big decisions affecting their future. Solicitors can help with this, as can mediators who specialise in helping families work through their issues together.
Once the details of the settlement have been worked out, either between the couple or with the involvement of the court, the last stage to go through is applying for a final order. This is the official confirmation that your civil partnership has ended. You’ll need to wait at least six weeks from the date of the conditional order before making the application, but don’t leave it too long. If you haven’t applied within 12 months, the court will ask you to explain why.
Is dissolution the only way of ending a civil partnership?
No, there are some other options.
Where a civil partnership is ‘void’ (perhaps because one of the parties was already in another civil partnership or marriage), the court can make a ‘nullity order’. This is ‘annulment’. It confirms the civil partnership doesn’t stand. A nullity order can also be made where the civil partnership is ‘voidable’, meaning it may have been valid but has become invalid – perhaps because one of the parties has changed their gender since the time of the civil partnership. Read more about void and voidable civil partnerships here.
Another possibility is a ‘legal separation’. This can be a good option if the relationship has broken down but you either can’t (because the civil partnership hasn’t yet lasted a year, for example) or, don’t want to apply for dissolution – perhaps because there’s a chance the relationship could get back on track. Similar considerations apply to legal separation as to dissolution; you could apply individually or jointly, and you could try to agree settlement terms (arrangements for property, assets, children etc) with your partner. It’s something of a halfway house, enabling you to separate from your partner and to some extent move on with your life without legally ending the civil partnership.
Navigating a relationship breakdown can take its toll on couples, children and the wider family. We’re here to help you through it.