Ending a Civil Partnership

When a civil partnership breaks down, the two parties involved cannot divorce as a married couple can. Instead, a civil partnership is most commonly ended via dissolution, although in certain cases the couple may apply for an annulment or a judicial separation. This guide explains gives who can end a civil partnership, how to go about it, what costs might be involved and the legal implications of doing so.

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What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal relationship between two parties (of either gender) which enjoys many of the same benefits as a traditional marriage with regards to taxation, inheritance and pensions.

It was introduced in 2004 as an alternative to marriage by the Labour government, initially aimed at same-sex couples. At that time, same-sex marriage was not legal in the UK.

How does a civil partnership differ from marriage?

A civil partnership is different from a conventional marriage in that it is free from all religious connotations, making it an alternative for couples who want to commit to each other in a legal relationship but do not want to identify themselves with any specific religion.

Accordingly, a civil partnership ceremony will be conducted by a registrar, as opposed to a vicar, rabbi or other clerical person. The ceremony itself will not contain any exchanging of vows, hymns, prayers or other elements of a traditional wedding, but simply the signing of a contract.

After the civil partnership is finalised, the two parties will not generally refer to each other using the terms “husband” or “wife” as married couples do. Instead, they are simply known as “civil partners”.

Can opposite sex couples have a civil partnership?

Although the idea of a civil partnership was originally introduced into the UK to accommodate for same-sex couples, the law is currently in the process of changing to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership as well.

After the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a couple who wanted the law to formally recognise their relationship without the religious and patriarchal connotations of a traditional marriage in June 2018, the UK government announced in October 2018 it would be amending the law to allow opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership as well. The new legislation is expected to come into force in 2019.

How can you end a civil partnership?

When a civil partnership breaks down, there are three options available for ending it:

  • dissolution
  • annulment
  • judicial separation

Dissolution is by far the most common option and can be applied for by either party, which a judge will usually grant without the necessity of the intervention of the court unless the other party disputes the dissolution.

What is a dissolution petition?

Those seeking a dissolution should first fill out a dissolution petition, known as Form D8. Once completed, those filing the form should first make three copies, keeping one for their own records and sending the other two to court. This form should be accompanied by the original civil partnership certificate and the fee for filing the petition. If applying for exemption from the fee, the appropriate form (Form EX160) should also be included.

Once the petition has been filed, the other party in the civil partnership will have eight days to respond with either their consent or disputation. If they agree to the dissolution, they must indicate their consent on the form D10 which will be sent to them by the court and once the original party receives a copy of this consent, they can then apply for a conditional order.

If they dispute the dissolution, again they must indicate their opposition on the form D10 and will have 21 days after the fact to file the appropriate form (Form DB8), citing the reasons why they are defending the original civil partnership. This will then take the matter before a hearing, where a judge will decide whether to grant a conditional order or not.

What is a conditional order?

Even if the other partner does not agree to the dissolution, the original party can still apply for a dissolution order, which is the interim judgement between the petition and the final dissolution. They must wait nine days after the other party has received the petition (regardless of whether they consent or not) before doing so.

In this application, the party must state which of the grounds (listed in the section below) they are basing the dissolution on. A judge will then decide to accept or decline the conditional order application.

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What is a final order?

After the conditional order has been granted, the party who initially filed for dissolution must wait six weeks and one day before applying for a final order by filing Form D36. The final order ends the civil partnership. This application must not take place later than 12 months after receiving the conditional order.

Meanwhile, if the first party does not file for a final order and the other party wishes to do so, they must wait for three months and one day before they can apply for a final order. After the final order has been granted, the civil partnership is officially dissolved and both parties are once again single in the eyes of the law.

Who is eligible to dissolve a civil partnership?

Either party in a couple can apply for dissolution of their civil partnership if one year has elapsed since the date of the original ceremony and they can demonstrate to the court that their civil partnership has “irretrievably broken down”. This can be achieved by citing one of the grounds for dissolution listed below.

What are the grounds for dissolving a civil partnership?

The four grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership are:

  • unreasonable behaviour
  • two years living apart (if the other party agrees to the dissolution)
  • five years living apart (if the other party does not agree to the dissolution)
  • desertion (defined as when one party has deserted the family home for a minimum of two years)

It should be noted that while adultery is admissible as grounds for divorce, it is not admissible as grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership.

What are the costs involved in dissolving a civil partnership?

The cost of the original dissolution petition (Form D8) is £592 and should be sent at the time of applying. If the respondent wishes to dispute the petition, the cost of doing so is £245 and should be sent with their reasons for defending the civil partnership (Form DB8). The cost of filing a conditional order is £50, while the cost of filing a final order (Form D36) is £45 for the original applicant or £167 for the respondent.

With all of the above costs, there is financial aid available to help those on low income, benefits or people who cannot afford to pay the fees. Those who wish to apply for exemption for any of the aforementioned fees should fill in and send Form EX160 along with their application.

These fees do not cover any legal advice you may require as part of the dissolution process. Law firms’ fees vary, but most will give an indication of total costs during your first meeting with them. It is advisable for both parties in a civil partnership to seek legal advice from the outset.

Financial settlements after dissolving a civil partnership

A dissolution of a civil partnership holds the same financial implications as a divorce does, in that the starting point for division of the couple’s assets will be 50/50. However, deviation from this starting point can and often does occur to ensure a fair settlement for all involved, taking into account disparity between the incomes of the two partners, their individual assets and the presence of any children in the family.

While it is preferable for the civil partners to work out a financial arrangement that both are happy with, typically the involvement of solicitors is necessary to work out and formalise an agreement. In either case, full and frank disclosure of all assets and incomes is instrumental in ensuring a fair settlement, and all agreements should be recorded in writing regardless of whether a solicitor is involved.

Maintenance payments between the two parties might concern the upbringing and welfare of children, and as such will take the form of child support. The exact amount of child support varies from case to case but an estimate can be obtained by using the child maintenance calculator provided by the government.

Additionally, a spousal maintenance payment may be required if, for example, one party has dependants, cannot support themselves financially or if there is a large discrepancy between the income of the two parties.

Can a civil partnership be annulled?

Yes, if strict criteria are met. Annulment is a legal declaration which states that the civil partnership is null and void and indeed that it never existed.

In this way, it differs from dissolution, which dissolves an existing civil partnership. Annulment denies that the civil partnership was ever legitimate and as such, never existed in the first place. Annulment will only be granted to civil partnerships which the law deems as void.

How do I qualify for annulment of a civil partnership?

Those wishing to obtain an annulment for their civil partnership must demonstrate that it is and always has been void. This can be achieved via one of the following grounds:

  • where one or both of the parties were incapable of entering into the civil partnership, either by being already involved in another marriage or civil partnership, by being under 16 at the time of the ceremony or by the two parties being too closely related to one another
  • where the formal requirements of a civil partnership were not met (such as notifying the registrar or applying through the proper channels)
  • where one or both of the parties did not give their consent to the civil partnership. This could occur through duress, error, fraud or misrepresentation, or if one or both of the parties suffered from mental illness at the time of the ceremony.

What is a judicial separation?

Judicial separation is a legal contract issued by the court recognising that while the civil partnership is technically still valid, the couple have legally separated. This is most commonly used when the civil partnership is less than a year old (meaning the couple cannot yet apply for dissolution) but they still wish to have legal recognition of the breakdown of their union.

Judicial separation might be a preferred option if the couple are waiting to dissolve the partnership on the grounds of two years’ separation. It is worth noting that a judicial separation is not automatically legally binding in the same way as a dissolution is. A judicial separation could be challenged by either party at a later date.

How are children affected by ending a civil partnership?

The details of all children in the family must be included on the original dissolution petition (Form D8). Ideally, the couple will be able to come to their own arrangements regarding where the child or children will live after the civil partnership has ended and who will be responsible for their day-to-day upbringing, as well as visitation agreements.

However, if an agreement cannot be reached independently, a mediator may help to solve disputes and reach an amicable understanding. If an agreement is still not possible, either party can apply for a Child Arrangements Order under section eight of the Children Act of 1989. Mediation will be a necessary requirement of anyone seeking a Child Arrangements Order.

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