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Civil Partnerships

This section deals with the procedure involved in obtaining a dissolution of civil partnership. Information about financial matters and children issues relating to dissolution of civil partnership and separation can be found here. We offer an undefended dissolution of civil partnership fixed fee package.

For most people considering dissolution of civil partnership in England and Wales the question of where to issue the dissolution of civil partnership proceedings is straight forward. However, if you are a citizen of another country or have been living abroad for a period of time you should obtain legal advice as soon as possible about where proceedings can or should be issued. Different countries deal with financial and children issues in different ways. It is usually the case that the person who issues their application first has the case decided in accordance with the law of that country.

Who can get dissolution of civil partnership?

You can start proceedings if you:

  • Have been in a civil partnership for one year or more
  • Either party is currently living in England or Wales, or has been for the year prior to the application.  It does not matter where the actual civil partnership took place
  • Your civil partnership has ‘broken down irretrievably’

Irretrievable breakdown of a civil partnership – the four ‘facts’

You can only establish irretrievable breakdown if you can prove one of the following facts:

  • Your civil partner has behaved unreasonably
  • Your civil partner has deserted you for a continuous period of 2 or more years
  • You have lived separate and apart from your civil partner for a period of at least 2 years, and your civil partner agrees to the dissolution of civil partnership
  • You have lived separate and apart from your civil partner for a period of at least 5 years (whether or not your civil partner agrees to the dissolution of civil partnership)

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013. The first same-sex marriage will take place in March 2014 and so, the first same-sex divorce may take place from March 2015. The procedure for same-sex divorce will be very similar to the civil partnership dissolution (as outlined above).

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Civil Partnerships FAQs

Procedure

Timetable

After one year of civil partnership either party to the civil partnership may apply for a dissolution of civil partnership, and is then referred to as the ‘petitioner’. A completed dissolution petition and a statement of arrangements for any children is sent to the court, together with the civil partnership certificate. A court fee (currently £550.00) has to be paid at this stage unless the petitioner is exempt from paying the court fee because of low income.

The dissolution of civil partnership process

In most cases you are expected to try to agree the contents of the dissolution petition before it is sent to the court. This makes it much more likely that the dissolution will proceed without any argument. We can advise you on what particulars of behaviour will be acceptable to the court to show that your civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.

The dissolution petition

All petitions follow a similar format. The final section, known as the ‘prayer’, which asks for the dissolution of the civil partnership, also deals with the question of who should pay the costs of the dissolution and what financial claims are being included. There are a number of costs options to consider. Often the petition includes a request for every possible type of financial provision. This is usually advisable for procedural reasons and it does not mean that each claim will be pursued.

Arrangements for the children

The court will not make an order setting out the arrangements for the children in the dissolution proceedings. If there is a dispute about the arrangements for the children that cannot be resolved any other way, for example by mediation, then the court may need to decide on the arrangements for the children in separate proceedings.

For further information about children issues – follow the link.

Within a few days of submitting the petition

The court sends a copy of the petition to the other civil partner, known as the ‘respondent’, or to their solicitor.

In addition the court sends a form called an ‘acknowledgement of service’ for the respondent to complete and return to the court. This shows that they have received the documents, and asks if they intend to defend the case and whether any claim for costs is disputed.

Within 8 days of receiving the petition

The respondent has to complete and return the acknowledgement of service to the court.

If the respondent intends to defend the petition they must file a defence, known as an ‘answer’, within 29 days of receiving the dissolution petition. If an answer is filed, the proceedings then become defended and the following timetable does not apply. The court will normally list the case for a short directions hearing where it will expect the parties to try to agree how the case can proceed without a full court hearing. It is rare that defended proceedings result in a full court hearing, but a delay inevitably occurs in finalising the dissolution.

If the respondent fails to return the acknowledgement of service you will need to prove that they have received the petition. We may need to do this by arranging for someone to serve the papers on them personally, or by asking the court to specify some other way of notifying them of the proceedings. The court may decide that there is other evidence, such as a letter mentioning the contents of the dissolution petition, which satisfies the court that the respondent has received the petition. Exceptionally the court might agree to dispense with service altogether.

Within a few days of the court receiving the acknowledgement of service

The court sends the petitioner’s solicitor a copy of the acknowledgement.

If the dissolution petition is undefended, the petitioner can then apply for the conditional order.

The petitioner has to sign a statement which confirms that the contents of the petition are true. The statement is then filed with the court, together with a request for a date for the conditional order to be pronounced.

Within the next few weeks

On receiving the request for the conditional order, the district judge reviews all the papers and, if they are in order, fixes a date for the conditional order. The solicitors for the petitioner and respondent are notified of a date for the hearing of conditional order, at which neither party needs to attend unless the order is disputed or there is an argument about costs. The conditional order is then granted and a sealed copy is sent to both parties.

Six weeks and one day from grant of conditional order

The petitioner may apply for the final order by sending the application to the court.

The final order is usually made within a few days and the civil partnership is then dissolved. A sealed copy is sent to both parties.

If the petitioner fails to apply for the final order, the respondent may do so 3 months after the date when the petitioner could first have applied. The petitioner will be notified of this application and both parties will usually need to attend court when the judge considers the application. The judge may refuse or adjourn the application if, for example, financial matters have not been resolved and the petitioner would lose important legal or financial rights if a decree is granted.

Separation

Sometimes people are not ready to have their civil partnership dissolved immediately, but just wish to live separately without going through a formal process. They may wish to live separate lives, sometimes in the same property, and often wish to organise their financial affairs in a way which reflects the fact that they are now living separate lives.

In practical terms, living separate lives in the same household can be difficult to manage for any significant length of time. For separation to count towards periods of time for dissolution of civil partnership, the separation has to be substantial and you should take our advice as to what the court is likely to treat as living separately before making any decision about living together in the same property with a view to obtaining a dissolution of civil partnership based upon periods of separation.

Civil Partnership Separation Order

A petition for a separation order does not dissolve the civil partnership but it does allow an application to be made to the court for some of the financial orders that the court could make in connection with that dissolution of civil partnership. For instance, the court does not have power to make a pension sharing order following separation order.

The procedure is very similar to obtaining a dissolution of civil partnership and the same facts have to be proved. As the process is virtually the same, most people make the decision to proceed with dissolution of civil partnership and a separation order is rarely used except where there is a religious or other objection to dissolution of civil partnership.

Where couples decide to separate but do not wish to go through dissolution of civil partnership immediately they will often wish to reach agreement as to how financial matters should be resolved, perhaps a sale of the home or the transfer of the home from one to the other in return for the payment of a lump sum.  In these circumstances it is important to record the financial agreement in a separation agreement. The separation agreement should record the circumstances of both parties and all the terms of the settlement.

Under English law it is not possible to bind the decision of the court in subsequent dissolution of civil partnership proceedings. This means that where there is a separation agreement there is no absolute guarantee that a court in subsequent dissolution proceedings will not make a different financial order from that which has been agreed. However, a court would have to take into account the fact that there has been a separation agreement and in normal circumstances the judge would have to find good reason to depart from a separation agreement entered into by the parties willingly and with a full appreciation of all the facts.

It is important to remember that even though you are separated by agreement that you still remain civil partners. This has important consequences particularly so far as the rights to benefit under pensions or death in service payments and also the right to benefit from your civil partner’s estate in the event of their death. It is therefore important that you make a Will to reflect the change in your circumstances and also make the necessary arrangements with employers and in relation to pension schemes.

For more information about separation and separation agreements, please contact one of our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320, email [email protected] or by using the enquiry form at the top of this page.

How much will my dissolution of civil partnership cost?

When both civil partners cooperate your civil partnership can be dissolved on an undefended basis and we can deal with all the paperwork and formalities for a fixed fee.

If you are unemployed or on a low income you may not have to pay court fees or may be able to claim back court fees you have already paid. Please ask us for further details or go to our fee exemption page.

If you are unemployed or on a low income and can show that you have been the victim of domestic abuse, you may be eligible for advice under the legal help scheme, which means the Legal Aid Agency will pay most, if not all, of your costs of getting a dissolution of civil partnership. There are conditions attached. Please ask us for further details or go to our legal aid page.

How long will it take?

The average dissolution of civil partnership takes 3 months from filing the dissolution petition to obtaining a conditional order. The final order can be applied for six weeks and one day later but if there are other issues, such as financial claims, to be resolved, then this can delay the final order.

What about financial matters?

It is not necessary to reach full agreement about your finances before you are granted your final order. However, in some cases, such as where you may be entitled to a pension on your civil partner’s death or where your home is in your civil partner’s sole name, you could lose important rights if your civil partnership is dissolved before these issues are resolved. You should not, therefore, apply for the final order, without discussing it with us first.

If you are the respondent to the dissolution and are concerned that you may be affected by the final order, you should speak to us before the date when your civil partner can apply for the final order to discuss what can be done to protect your position.

For further information about financial issues on dissolution of civil partnership follow the link.

Will I have to appear in court?

You will not have to appear in court unless the proceedings are defended, or there is disagreement about who should pay the costs, about the children, or about financial matters which needs to be resolved at a court hearing.

Are the proceedings public?

Family law proceedings, including all the court papers, are usually private.

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