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Civil partnership dissolution

This document provides general guidance regarding procedure for dissolving a civil partnership. Your family lawyer will be able to provide specific advice based on your circumstances.

How do I apply for a dissolution?

To apply for a civil partnership dissolution (the civil partnership terminology for divorce) your civil partnership must have been entered into at least a year prior to the application for dissolution. It doesn’t matter where in the world you formalised your relationship, you can only apply for a dissolution in England and Wales if either you or your civil partner meet certain residence conditions or are domiciled here. You should speak to your family lawyer about this if you are in any doubt.

The dissolution process is generally administrative. This means that usually neither of you will need to see a judge to get a dissolution, as it is almost always agreed by a judge on the paperwork. The process is simple as long as your partner does not decide to dispute the proceedings and ask the court not to grant your divorce.

Since 6th April 2022, it is no longer possible to defend a divorce by saying that the civil partnership has not irretrievably broken down. It is possible to dispute the proceedings but the grounds are limited to issues about the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case or about the validity or subsistence of the civil partnership . When this happens, a different procedure applies. Disputed proceedings are rare.

If you and your partner are not in agreement regarding arrangements for any children of the family and/or finances these will be dealt with separately (but at the same time) from the dissolution process.

Starting dissolution proceedings and procedure

Joint applications

For the first time, from 6 April 2022 a divorce application can be filed by either or both parties to the civil partnership, i.e. a joint application can be made. If a joint application is made, you will be equally responsible for the application. You can agree between yourselves how to pay the court fee for the application.

Circumstances may arise during a joint application such as where one party refuses to progress the application. In those circumstances an application that has been made jointly by both parties can become an application by one party only, i.e. it may be switched from a joint to sole application. This can only be done at the stage of applying for either the conditional order or the final order.

Where a joint applicant wishes to proceed as a sole applicant at final order stage, the applicant must give 14 days’ notice to the other party of their intention to give notice to the court that they wish the conditional order to be made final.

Commencing proceedings

The document that commences the proceedings is called an application. Your family lawyer will need to have your original (or an official copy) civil partnership certificate to file the application and also an approved translation of what it says if it is in a language other than English. There is a court fee payable to start the process. Proceedings can be issued by one person (a sole application), or jointly by both parties to the civil partnership.

To start proceedings, (or your family lawyer, on your behalf) must file an application at court. This may be done using the HMCTS online system. The application is a form that gives the court information about you and your spouse, and tells the court that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.

Serving the application

In a sole application, the court (or your family lawyer) sends the application to the respondent (known as service), together with a form for the respondent to fill in called the acknowledgment of service. In the acknowledgment of service the respondent has to say whether or not they intend to dispute the proceedings. The acknowledgment of service has to be returned to the court. If the respondent has no intention of disputing the proceedings that may be the end of their part in the process and all further steps are taken by the applicant. In some cases however the respondent may want the final order to be made earlier than the applicant would prefer.

The application can be served on the respondent by email, but when that happens the rules provide that it is also necessary to send them notification by post. The application must be served on the respondent within 28 days after the date of issue of the application.

In the case of a joint application, the court will send a copy of the notice of proceedings to both parties once the application has been issued. Applicant 1 and Applicant 2 must acknowledge receipt of the notice of proceedings within 14 days of receiving it.

Steps for the respondent

There are strict deadlines for the steps that need to be taken after the application is served on the respondent. An acknowledgment of service form (which the respondent will have received from the court with the issued application) must be completed and filed by the respondent. The respondent has 14 days to file the acknowledgment of service, beginning with the date on which the application was served on them.

The acknowledgment of service asks the respondent if they intend to dispute the proceedings. A respondent who wishes to dispute the proceedings must file and serve a document called an answer within 21 days from the date by which the acknowledgment of service is required to be filed. The answer should set out on what grounds the respondent disputes the application. Disputed proceedings are generally rare.

Applying for the conditional order

The applicant(s) must confirm to the court that they want to proceed with the application. The first stage in the process is a conditional order. That confirmation cannot be given to the court unless 20 weeks have elapsed from the start of proceedings.

A statement in support of the application has to be completed by the applicant. This is a form that states that the contents of the application are true. Your family lawyer files the statement in support of the application at court together with your application for a conditional order, which is the first stage of the proceedings. A conditional order means that the court has agreed that you are entitled to a dissolution, but has not yet made it final. After the court has received your application for a conditional order, the court will consider the application and issue a certificate telling you when the conditional order will be made.

Conditional orders are made in open court. This means the judge reads out a list of names of people whose dissolutions have got to conditional order stage that week. Although anyone can go to court to hear this if they want to, you do not have to attend court when this happens and people usually do not attend. At any time after the conditional order is made, the court is able to make a binding financial order regarding your financial arrangements on dissolution, either by consent or as a result of separate financial court proceedings. The court will not make a binding financial order unless you or the respondent ask it to, or your separate financial court proceedings have reached a conclusion.

Applying for the final order

Once the court has made the conditional order, there will then be a further six weeks until the final dissolution order can be applied for. It is the final order that formally ends the civil partnership . Not everyone should apply for final order as soon as it is available so please do not apply for the final order before taking advice. It may not be sensible to apply immediately if, for example, financial arrangements are not yet settled as in some cases the grant of final order will prevent certain types of financial claims being made.

If the respondent is keen to end the civil partnership and the applicant has not applied for the final order, the respondent can ask the court for permission to do so after a certain period of time. The court will usually grant such an application unless there are particularly pressing reasons not to do so. In certain special circumstances the court may delay the grant of a final order.

Children and finances

For the purposes of any financial or children arrangements that need to be made, it doesn’t matter in most cases who starts the proceedings for a dissolution and why. You can ask the court to make orders about money and about children if necessary during (or after) the dissolution, but these legal processes are completely separate from the dissolution itself. This guide only deals with the dissolution procedure, see our guides to arrangements for children and financial arrangements for more information on these areas. You should note however that if you are considering entering into another civil partnership (or marriage ) you should speak to your family lawyer before doing so as that may affect your ability to make an application for financial provision.

How long will my application for a dissolution take?

Your family lawyer will be able to advise you on how long your application for a dissolution is likely to take. This can vary depending on the current timescales for the court dealing with your proceedings, and whether each step in the application is taken promptly and financial arrangements do not hold things up.

Implications in relation to your Will

It is important to note that dissolution may mean that certain provisions in your Will do not work as you might have intended them to. You will need to make a new Will quickly after the final order is made (or in contemplation of dissolution) to ensure your wishes are carried out in the event of your death.

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