Bookmark & Share

  • Email This Page Email This Page
  • Print This Page Print this page



Europe > England Wales > Family Law > Domestic Partnership > Dissolution for civil partners

Overview: Family Law, Domestic Partnership

Obtaining a Dissolution of a Civil Partnership

For many people contemplating a dissolution of their civil partnership the emotional aspects can seem overwhelming, particularly where the separation was initiated by their partner. What is being considered is a profound change of status and identity which almost certainly gives rise to a raft of painful losses, including the loss of a partner, friend and confidante; and the loss of hopes for what the future might have been. These are significant issues and, for many, it will be important to have support to help address them. The purpose of this note is to give guidance on the purely legal and procedural aspects of obtaining a dissolution.

Before even beginning the process, early consideration may need to include:

  1. Whether the process needs to be started very quickly – perhaps to ‘secure’ jurisdiction in a preferred country or court, or simply to secure more control over matters generally.
  2. Whether you will want immediate help from the court regarding financial matters.
  3. Whether a ‘separation order’ would be more appropriate (however, seeking some of your civil partner’s pension by way of ‘pension sharing’ is only available on dissolution).
  4. Careful attention to all the potential implications which might include tax, immigration, inheritance/trusts and pensions.

Some terminology

The person seeking the divorce is the “Petitioner”.

The other party is the “Respondent”.

The ‘Conditional Order of dissolution’ is the court formally saying that a dissolution can be granted

The ‘Final Dissolution Order’ is the court’s final order, formally ending the civil partnership.

The law

  1. It is only possible to obtain a dissolution of a civil partnership if you have been in that civil partnership for more than one year;
  2. Thereafter, the process is actually fairly straightforward if both parties are reasonably co-operative. It can be a paper exercise with no need to attend court.
  3. There is only one ‘ground’ for dissolution, namely that the civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.
  4. The fact that it has irretrievably broken down has to be evidenced in one of 4 ways. In brief they are:

    a. The civil partners have been separated for 2 years and they both consent to the dissolution;
    b. The Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. In this case, it is often a question of treading a thin line between saying enough to satisfy the Court that the civil partnership has broken down but not so much as to upset and antagonise needlessly the party from whom the dissolution is being sought.
    The remaining two options are rarely used but, in short, they are:
    c. The civil partners have been separated for 5 years;
    d. The Respondent has ‘deserted’ the Petitioner for at least 2 years.

  5. There are detailed rules concerning periods of cohabitation after separation has commenced.

Defending the proceedings

The person receiving a petition for dissolution of a civil partnership has the right to defend the proceedings although this is rarely done. The cost of defending a dissolution is considerable (tens of thousands of pounds), the chances of success are usually low and the end point would usually be a public hearing where the alleged facts are analysed by barristers in front of a judge and the couple would have to give evidence from the witness box. Given defended dissolutions are unusual, they can attract media attention.

Timing and expense

The Petitioner has the burden of doing most of the work (which means more expense) but has more control over the timing than the Respondent. The Petitioner will have to pay the court and oath fees (currently around £400). Solicitors’ fees would be in addition. However, the Petitioner is entitled to claim from the Respondent a contribution towards their costs. The Respondent’s costs are usually around half of the amount the Petitioner incurs. If there is co-operation and solicitors are instructed on each side, the Final Dissolution Order could be secured in four to six months. However, there can be sensible reasons to defer finalising the dissolution until after financial matters have been resolved. Note that once a petition has been filed, either side can pursue it forward to a final order (though often, for the reasons discussed below, agreement is reached to hold up the final dissolution order until after final financial arrangements are made.)

The effect of having your civil partnership dissolved

The pronouncement of the Final Dissolution Order (which formally dissolves the civil partnership) has the following effect:

  1. It enables either party to enter into another civil partnership or to marry;
  2. It enables final financial orders to take effect;
  3. It prevents a party from applying for a dissolution in a different country where that is possible (important if the rules about finances would result in a different outcome there).
  4. It may change who receives what if one of the civil partners then dies:

    a. where no Will has been written, the surviving former civil partner loses any entitlement;
    b. if a Will is in existence which dates from before the Final Dissolution Order, then the order cancels:

    i. any gift to the surviving civil partner
    ii. any appointment of the surviving civil partner as an executor or trustee;

    c. it may affect the appointment of guardians for any children.

  5. It may affect pension entitlements, where there is provision for a surviving civil partner under the scheme. Many schemes have provision for a surviving civil partner– but this disappears at dissolution. This is the main reason why the application for the Final Dissolution Order is often delayed until after financial matters are resolved and alternative financial arrangements are put in place.
  6. There may be other impacts – such as on private health insurances that give automatic cover to civil partners (but no cover to former civil partners) and occasionally because there are specific work related benefits (e.g. reduced cost travel for civil partners). Occasionally there may be impacts on trusts, which make specific provision for civil partners but none at all for former civil partners.
  7. It may have implications for Capital Gains Tax: in the year of separation, assets can be transferred between civil partners without triggering a charge – once there is a dissolution, you are no longer civil partners and charges may apply.
  8. It may pave the way to an increased state pension: it may be possible to acquire the former civil partner’s National Insurance contributions (without detrimentally affecting that former civil partner’s entitlement). You should obtain advice from a Financial Adviser about this (and other matters generally when contemplating dissolution)

The Process (an example timeline):




What is involved


Obtain civil partnership certificate

The court must know that there is a civil partnership and if the original civil partnership certificate is not available then a replacement must be obtained (note that, generally, the court retains the civil partnership certificate so you do not get it back). Where the certificate is in a foreign language, an official translation must be provided


Petitioner prepares a draft petition …

…and if there are children a "Statement of Arrangements"

The process is started by the dissolution petition, confirming standard information and detailing the basis upon which the dissolution is being sought.

The court is charged with the duty of ensuring that no arrangements are put in place which are inappropriate for any children. A form sets out basic details - rarely will the court interfere.

3 - 4

Trying to agree the paperwork

In the majority of cases it is sensible to try to agree the form of wording in the petition and, if there are children, the Statement of Information form

5 - 7

Petition (and any Statement of Information form) sent to court to be ‘issued’. The court can take a while to process the paperwork. Once issued, the papers are returned with the court stamp and formal case reference number, ready to be given to the Respondent



Acknowledgement of service filed by the Respondent.

The proceedings cannot advance unless the court is satisfied that the Respondent is aware of the proceedings. Generally this is done by the Respondent filling in a court form, confirming his/her stand in relation to the proceedings (hopefully saying they do not defend the proceedings). If the Respondent does not co-operate, there can be substantial delay and additional costs before matters can proceed.

9 - 10

Petitioner prepares a statement in support of the petition

This far, all the court has seen is an allegation that there is a basis for granting a dissolution. Before it can proceed, the court must have proof. This proof is provided by the Petitioner signing a statement confirming that what is said in the petition is true and confirming that they still want a dissolution.


Petitioner applies for the Conditional Order

If the proceedings are not defended, the court can deal with the request for a dissolution on paper alone – there is no need for an oral hearing (‘trial’).


Notification of Conditional Order

The District Judge at the court considers the papers and, if satisfied, certifies that the matter may proceed routinely. S/he gives a date for the pronouncement of the Conditional Order. If there are children, the Judge will also state whether or not the court needs to get involved with the arrangements (rarely done). If the Petitioner sought an order that the Respondent contribute to his/her costs, the Judge will also say at this stage whether or not the Court intends to make an order. If either party intends to dispute the court’s position on costs and intends to attend at court to make representations, they must give at least 2 days notice to the other.


Pronouncement of Conditional Order

The Conditional Order is pronounced – a Judge reads out in open court a list of all the dissolutions and divorces. There is no need for anyone to attend the court unless the Respondent is objecting to the court’s stance over costs. By pronouncing the Conditional Order the court is declaring that the Petitioner is entitled to a dissolution.


Application for Final Dissolution Order

The Petitioner can apply for the Final Dissolution Order (which finalises the dissolution) six weeks after the Conditional Order. Notice does not have to be given to the Respondent. However, the Petitioner is likely to delay applying if financial matters have not yet been resolved.


Final Dissolution Order pronounced

The court should pronounce the Final Dissolution Order promptly (a few days) after receiving the application from the Petitioner. The court sends a formal Final Dissolution Order to each party. Upon the pronouncement of the Final Dissolution Order the civil partnership is formally dissolved. The court retains the civil partnership certificate.

If the Petitioner does not apply for the Final Dissolution Order, the Respondent can apply 4½ months after the Conditional Order but s/he has to give advance notice to the Petitioner. If the Petitioner objects, there would be a court hearing and it is likely that the court would only grant the Final Dissolution Order if the Petitioner would not prejudicially affected.

Last Update: 2013-Jan-14 Dave Allison - Family Law in Partnership
The contents of this page do not constitute legal advice or create an attorney- client relationship with the contributor. Do not apply anything you read here without contacting a professional.
Author: Dave Allison
Law Firm: Family Law in Partnership
Address: 1 Neal St
Covent Garden
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 207 420 5000