Family Law Guide

Guide to the dissolution of civil partnerships

Guide to the dissolution of civil partnerships

The decision to apply to dissolve a civil partnership is one of the most difficult decisions that one can make in life and so clients will often seek initial legal advice before deciding whether or not to proceed.  Depending on your particular needs we will discuss with you the arrangements that need to be made for your children in terms of their residence and care, the financial provision that the court would consider appropriate for the maintenance and support of the less wealthy partner and the grounds upon which a dissolution may proceed or indeed be defended. We deal with each of these matters separately to ensure that they each receive the attention they require and to ensure that the best interests of the children remain the absolute priority and entirely separate from any financial dispute. Please also see our guide to financial provision upon breakdown of a civil partnership, our guide to child financial provision upon the breakdown of a civil partnership and our guide to arrangements for children upon relationship breakdown.

The dissolution process itself is largely a paper exercise by which the court is asked to agree to pronounce the end of the civil partnership on the grounds of the other party’s behaviour, separation for a period of more than two years (with consent), five years of separation (without consent) or desertion. There is currently no such thing as a ‘no fault’ dissolution in England and Wales as there has been in other jurisdictions for some time. As a result the petitioner will need to provide sufficient detail of the irretrievable breakdown of his or her civil partnership within their petition to satisfy the court that a dissolution should be granted. However to avoid any unnecessary dispute, it is often possible for both parties’ solicitors to seek to agree these particulars in advance of issue.

It may be that additional protection should be put in place, such as financial freezing injunctions or provisions to prevent domestic violence.  These should be put in place early on and, if necessary, before the other party is notified of the intention to dissolve the civil partnership.

Despite the possible psychological effects of one party acting as the petitioner and the other acting as the respondent, there is no substantive legal advantage or disadvantage to assuming either role, although there may be some procedural advantage to taking the initiative. Equally, it will not have any impact upon the financial or children proceedings that may follow.  The major exception to this is where there may be more than one country’s jurisdiction that may govern the case. Since the treatment of finances on dissolution may vary widely between jurisdictions, making sure you put your dissolution through the right one may make a fundamental difference to the outcome, and being the first to petition may make all the difference.

Your civil partner will need to be served with the petition and will be asked to acknowledge service to the court. If they refuse, service can be affected personally by process servers or by what is known as substituted service.

Once an acknowledgement has been filed the petitioner can apply for the conditional order that will be pronounced in open court (but without either party needing to be present) if the grounds of the petition are accepted. After this point the court will have jurisdiction to make a legally binding order in relation to the parties’ finances that, once finalised, will be followed by an application for final order (see our guide on finances upon civil partnership breakdown).  This final decree has the effect of formally dissolving the civil partnership and freeing both parties to enter into a new civil partnership if they so wish. This final decree cannot be applied for until at least 6 weeks and 1 day from the conditional order being pronounced.  It is, however, usually obtained some time after that once a financial settlement has been negotiated and/or approved by the court. If you are interested in discussing the dissolution of a civil partnership please see How Vardags can help with the dissolution of civil partnerships.