Civil Partnerships – the dissolution process
What is a Civil Partnership? Initially introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, civil partnerships were devised to provide a relationship status for same sex couples akin to, but different, to a marriage, which was not available to same sex couples until 2014.
(Civil Partnerships have since been made available to heterosexual couples as of 31st December 2019, pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan.)
A civil partnership is formed once both individuals, both of whom are at least are 16 years of age, have signed the civil partnership document in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses. Unlike a marriage at civil ceremonies readings, songs or music cannot have any religious connotations, e.g. readings from the bible or hymns etc.
The differences between a civil partnership and marriage are nominal, but small differences do exist:
- Civil partners cannot call themselves ‘married’ for legal purposes
- A marriage is ended with divorce by obtaining a decree absolute, while a civil partnership is ended with dissolution by obtaining a dissolution order
- Adultery is not a valid reason to dissolve a civil partnership, but it can be used to divorce
Despite the small differences, legally speaking a civil partnership broadly confers the same rights to civil partners, when concerning the laws that govern wills, administration of estates and tax exemptions.
Dissolution of Civil Partnership
Should you come to the difficult decision that the relationship is over, and you legally wish to end your civil partnership, an application will need to be made to court for a dissolution order. To apply for a dissolution order, the civil partnership must have been in place for a minimum period of one year.
Much like the divorce process, until the implementation of the no-fault divorce process in April 2022, the court work on a fault-based system. To start the dissolution process, you will need to prove to the court that the civil partnership has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and that there is no prospect of reconciliation; to prove this one of four facts need to be established, these facts are:
- Unreasonable behaviour – Your civil partner has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them (whilst adultery in of itself cannot be cited as a fact for the parties’ separation in of itself as in divorce proceedings, it can be cited as an example of unreasonable behaviour)
- two years’ separation and consent – You and your civil partner have ‘lived apart’ for a continuous period of at least two years prior to the presentation of the dissolution petition and your partner agrees to the dissolution being granted
- two years’ desertion – Your civil partner has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years immediately proceedings the dissolution petition, and
- five years’ separation – You and your civil partner have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years prior to the presentation of the dissolution petition (civil partner’s consent not required).
Dissolution Process – the timeline
- Preparation of Dissolution papers – You as the civil partner who lodges the petition (known as the petitioner), will be required to particularise within the dissolution petition how the Civil Partnership has ‘irretrievably broken down’, using one of the facts detailed above. The paper will then need to be forwarded to Court with the requisite Court fee.
If completed correctly the Court will ‘issue’ the petition and send a copy to your civil partner who will be referred to as Respondent going forward.
- Acknowledgement of Service – Your civil partner will receive a copy of the Dissolution Petition, together with a copy of a form known as an Acknowledgement of Service. The document needs to be completed within seven days of receipt, wherein they confirm receipt of the dissolution papers and confirm whether they seek to contest the dissolution petition or not.
Should your civil partner seek to contest the dissolution, they will have a further 21 days to file an ‘Answer’ to the Court, detailing why they do not agree to the dissolution.
- Confirming the Petition – The next stage in the process is for the petitioner to sign a statement of truth, confirming that the circumstances remain the same and that they do not wish to alter the content of their petition. This is then filed with the Court with a request that the Conditional Order is pronounced.
- Conditional Order – The second stage in the dissolution process (Decree Nisi in divorce), if the dissolution petition is uncontested by your civil partner, the Court will consider the content of the papers filed by parties and will confirm whether it is satisfied the reasons cited within the dissolution petition are sufficient for the dissolution to be granted. If approved, any financial order can now be implemented. It does not mean that the civil partnership has been dissolved at this point.
- Final Order – six weeks and one day after the date of the Conditional Order the petitioner can apply for the ‘final order’ which is the document that will ultimately bring the civil partnership to an end. Should the petitioner not apply, within three months after this time period has elapsed (total four and a half months) then the Respondent can apply to court for the Final Order to be made.
The process in total should take approximately four to six months to complete, however, this is dependent on a multitude of elements, including, whether the dissolution is agreed, how promptly parties complete and file documents and the Court’s availability.
If there are any disagreements between parties regarding any financial settlement, then it can result in further delays until any ultimate settlement is agreed.
Dissolution – Finances
As with married couples, upon separation any dispute between civil partners as to the title or possession of property either partner may apply to Court to reach a settlement. The Court’s principle aim is to reach a fair settlement upon consideration of each parties’ needs and resources. When settling assets, the Court will look to equally split the assets, unless convinced by either party that a departure from equality in their favour is justified.
The Court can make several orders to settle the finances which are principally as follows:
- A sale of a property, a transfer to one person, or put it into a trust
- A lump sum (whole or in instalments) or a series of lump sums, eg to pay off a mortgage
- Typically, in scenarios where there is income inequality between the parties, it can order one party to pay maintenance to the other either for the rest of their joint lives, until the recipient remarries, or for a fixed period.
- It can order money for school fees etc but not usually for general child maintenance
- It can order that a pension be shared or attached. Sharing is where funds are transferred or split between the parties; attachment is like maintenance direct from a pension but can also be a lump sum.