Your Guide to the Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

The Civil Partnership Act 2004, which came into force in December 2005, allowed same sex couples in the UK to register their relationship for the first time and have it legally recognised.

This gave couples who registered as civil partners a package of rights and responsibilities including the ability to apply for parental responsibility of their civil partner’s child and the full range of financial orders available to a married couple.

The Act celebrates its tenth anniversary in December 2015, so with that in mind, Howells Solicitors decided to research, highlight and examine some of the statistics and trends that have emerged over the past decade.

Civil Partnership Statistics

The number of civil partnerships in the UK peaked in the first quarter of 2006 at 4,869. The ONS believes that this was because a large number of same sex couples in long-standing relationships took advantage of the opportunity to formalise their relationship as soon as the legislation was implemented.

This is reflected in the fact that between the 21st of December and 23rd of December 2005, 1,227 civil partnerships were formed.

The number of civil partnership formations has since decreased, fluctuating between 6,200 and 7,200 per year since 2008.

It is interesting to note that the Government Equalities Office originally estimated that there would be between 11,000 and 22,000 civil partners in Great Britain by 2010, but there were actually over 79,000 people in civil partnerships at the beginning of 2010.

What you must know

Bringing a civil partnership to an end involves a court process which formally dissolves your legal connection as partners. 

The law for same-sex couples has evolved considerably over the past few years, so you should check that your relationship is treated as a civil partnership under UK law (rather than a marriage or a co-habiting relationship).  If you are in a multi-national relationship, or have entered into an overseas relationship, or are not living in the UK, you may also need to check that the UK court has the power to dissolve your civil partnership.

If you are eligible to apply, you will have to satisfy the UK court that your relationship has irretrievably broken down and that you can satisfy one of the specific grounds for dissolution which are:

  • Unreasonable behaviour (which can cover a wide range of issues in practice)
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Five years separation
  • Desertion

Adultery is not a ground for dissolving a civil partnership, although in practice if your partner has had sexual relations with someone else this can be used as an example of unreasonable behaviour.

Some couples prefer to wait until they have been separated for two years so that a dissolution petition can be filed without giving detail about the difficulties between them. However, there are ways of handling unreasonable behaviour petitions sensitively for those who wish to dissolve a civil partnership amicably before they have been separated for two years.

The process of dissolving a civil partnership 

It generally takes at least 3-4 months to dissolve a civil partnership and the process is usually completed on paper, with the judge looking at the papers sitting in private at court. It is very unusual to be asked to attend court.  If there are financial or children issues to resolve, these are dealt with in separate proceedings which often run alongside the dissolution process. Find out more about resolving financial issues and resolving children disputes.

One partner (the petitioner) must prepare the dissolution petition and send it to the court, together with the court fee. It is important to draft the petition correctly or the court will return it.  The petition should give details about the grounds for dissolution. It should also say whether the petitioner intends to make any financial claims (which must be dealt with in separate proceedings) and whether the petitioner wishes to claim the costs from his or her partner (which is possible where the petition is based on the other partner's unreasonable behaviour).  The issue of costs is a sensitive one and it is often sensible to try and resolve this in advance by negotiation.

Once received, the court will issue the petition (stamp it and give it a case number) and send the petition and an acknowledgement of service form to the other civil partner (the respondent).

The respondent needs to complete the acknowledgement of service form, and send it back to the court within seven days.  The response should indicate whether the respondent accepts that the civil partnership should come to an end, or wishes to defend the petition (or to file a cross petition). Most petitions are undefended, because if one party wants the civil partnership to come to an end it is not usually realistic to argue that it should continue. If the dissolution is undefended, this does not mean that all the financial or children issues are agreed; these issues will be dealt with separately.  The respondent should also say whether he or she agrees to pay the costs, to make a contribution toward them, or disputes paying any costs.

The petitioner then completes a court form called a statement in support of the petition. He or she files this with the court (attaching the respondent's acknowledgment of service) and asks the court to set a date for the conditional order.  A judge will look at the application and decide whether the procedure has been completed correctly and whether the grounds for dissolution are satisfied. If so, the judge will set a date for a conditional order. When a conditional order is made, this means that the dissolution will be made final unless the respondent shows a reason (within six weeks) why it should not.

Six weeks and one day after the date of the conditional order, the petitioner can apply for a final order which formally brings the civil partnership to an end. If the petitioner does not apply, the respondent can apply three months after the date of the conditional order.

You can contact OTS Family law Solicitors London office for help in addressing any issues that you may have. 

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