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Ending a civil partnership

This advice applies to England

You can legally end your civil partnership by asking the court for a ‘dissolution order’. You can only do this if your civil partnership has lasted for at least one year.

If you're not a British Citizen, ending a civil partnership may affect your right to stay in the UK.

If you have children, you will have to sort out arrangements for the children when you end a civil partnership. You might also need to sort out financial arrangements or  housing problems.

Dissolution orders

If you want to legally end your civil partnership, you will need to apply to a court for a dissolution order. Your civil partnership must have lasted at least one year before you can apply for a dissolution. You must prove to the court that the civil partnership has 'irretrievably' broken down - that is broken down on a permanent basis. You must be able to prove at least one of the following things:

  • your partner has behaved unreasonably
  • you and your partner have lived apart for two years, and that you both agreed to the dissolution
  • you and your partner have lived apart for at least five years, if only one of you agrees to the dissolution
  • your partner deserted you at least two years ago.

How to apply for a dissolution order

You can apply for a dissolution order on GOV.UK. You can also get the forms from the nearest Family Court that deals with civil partnership dissolutions. To find your nearest Family Court, look up 'courts' in your telephone directory or go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

If your partner agrees to the dissolution of your civil partnership, the court will look at the papers and make a conditional order of dissolution. The dissolution will be made final six weeks from the date of the conditional order.

If your partner doesn't agree to the dissolution, you should consult a solicitor. Legal fees can be very high so it is best to try to come to an agreement before going to court. 

You can find out more about getting help with legal costs on GOV.UK.

What counts as unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour can be anything your partner has done that makes you feel it’s impossible to live with them anymore. For example, domestic abuse or committing a criminal offence.

It can also include things that might seem less serious, but still make you feel you can’t stay with your partner - for example, if:

  • your partner doesn’t include you in their social life

  • you think your partner has become too close to someone else

  • your partner works long hours and you feel lonely

  • your partner doesn’t help with things like housework and cooking

  • your partner has been sexually unfaithful

You’ll need to give a reason why you feel they’re being unreasonable that's specific and based on something they’ve done or are doing. It will speed up the process if you can agree with your ex-partner on the reason you'll use before you put it in the dissolution order application. If you don’t, your ex-partner might disagree with the reason later which can delay the process and make it more expensive.

Living apart

You can apply for a dissolution or separation order if you and your civil partner have lived apart for at least two years and you both agree to the court making the order. If you've lived apart for at least five years, there is no need for you both to agree.

Living apart usually means that you haven't been living in the same household. In some circumstances, you may have stayed in the same home but you must be able to show that you have not shared meals, slept together or done things for each other like washing, cooking or cleaning.

If you've applied for a dissolution order because of living apart for five years, the court may refuse to grant the order if it would cause serious financial hardship or other hardship to your partner.

While you and your partner are separated, you can get back together again for up to six months in total. This time won’t count towards the two years you need to have been apart.

Desertion

You can apply for a dissolution or separation order if your partner left you and you haven’t been in a relationship with them for at least 2 years.

Desertion can be difficult to prove - it might be easier to use unreasonable behaviour or living apart as your reason for ending a civil partnership.

After your partner leaves, you can get back together again for up to 6 months in total - but this time won’t count towards the 2 years you need to prove desertion.

You’ll also need to prove your partner decided to leave you and that you didn’t want the relationship to end.

Separation orders

You can get a separation order if your civil partnership has lasted less than a year, or you don’t want to end it. This could help you sort out problems with money if you and your ex-partner can’t agree but it won’t end your civil partnership.

If you want to end your civil partnership, it’s usually better to wait until it’s lasted for a year so you can get a dissolution order. While you’re waiting, you could get a separation agreement to agree the details of how you want to separate. Find out how to make a separation agreement

Annulment

For a civil partnership to be legal, it must meet certain conditions. For example, you and your partner must both be over 16 when you registered the partnership and you must not already be a civil partner or married to someone else.

If your civil partnership does not meet one of these conditions, the court can end the partnership by granting an annulment. For more information about conditions you must meet to register a civil partnership, see Registering a civil partnership.

When the court grants an annulment, it may say that your civil partnership is either:

  • void - in effect, the civil partnership never existed
  • voidable - this means the civil partnership was legal at the time it was registered but it isn't legal any longer

Whether the court will say your civil partnership is void or voidable depends on the circumstances.

If you want to apply for an annulment, you must usually do it within three years of the date you registered your civil partnership. There are some exceptions to this rule.

You will need to get legal advice if you want to apply for an annulment. You might get financial help to pay for your legal costs. You can find a solicitor on Resolution.org.uk

For more information about financial help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

If you're not a British Citizen

If you're not a British Citizen and your civil partnership ends, this could affect your right to stay in the UK. Find out more about staying in the UK on a visa without your partner.

If you're not a British Citizen and you are thinking of ending your civil partnership, you should get advice from an experienced immigration adviser. Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

Children at the end of a civil partnership

When a civil partnership ends, everyone with parental responsibility will need to decide who will care for the children on a day-to-day basis.

Having parental responsibility means you share with your partner in the responsibility for your child's health, education and welfare.

If you're in a civil partnership, there are various ways in which you might have got parental responsibility for your partner's children.

For more information about parental responsibility, see Responsibility for children in Civil partnerships and living together – legal differences.

It is best if everyone with parental responsibility can come to an arrangement about the care of your children.

If you find it difficult to come to an agreement, you can ask for help from a local family mediation service. Mediators are people who are trained to listen to all sides in a dispute, and to help you reach an agreement on what will be best for the children. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding.

If you can't come to an agreement about the care of your children, you can ask the court to make a decision (court order) for you. However, in most cases, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before they will consider your application.

If you have got children and there's likely to be a dispute about the arrangements for their care, you'll need to consult an experienced solicitor. You might get help with legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

You can find a solicitor on Resolution.org.uk. You can also get help to find a solicitor from your nearest Citizens Advice.

What orders can a court make about children

A court will only make an order concerning children if it feels it is in the best interests of the children to do so. This is called a child arrangements order. A child arrangements orders sets out the arrangements about who a child should live with, spend time with and have other types of contact with and when these arrangements should take place. The child arrangments order is one order which replaces the previous residence and contact orders.

The child arrangements order may include activity conditions, for example, attendance at a parenting programme. It may also say what sort of contact you can have, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters. Orders can also be made to allow contact between a child and other relatives or friends.

Find out more about what orders a court can make about children on the Coram Children’s Legal Centre website.

Financial arrangements at the end of a civil partnership

At the end of a civil partnership, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially, regardless of where the children will live. This means biological parents and people who have parental responsibility.

You and your partner have a legal responsibility to support one another financially at the end of a civil partnership. This is the case whether or not you have children.

There are three possible ways to arrange financial support:

  • by agreement
  • Child Maintenance Service
  • through the courts.

You can get help to agree financial arrangements.

Agreeing financial support for child maintenance

If you both agree to financial support, this is called a voluntary agreement. It can be written down or it could be a verbal agreement.

You can agree, for example, that one of you will make weekly payments to the other for the support of children, or that one of you will meet rent or mortgage payments, household bills, or pay for the children's clothing and holidays.

For more information about making a child maintenance arrangement, see How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement.

Before you agree to a package of financial support, it may be useful to get legal advice about whether it is an appropriate arrangement. It may also be useful to have an agreement written up by a solicitor in case of future problems You might get help with the costs of making a voluntary agreement.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

The Child Maintenance Service

If your relationship has ended and the children are living with you, you can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to get financial support for your children. However, you don't have to use the CMS if you don't want to.

The CMS is the government child maintenance service that arranges maintenance for children under the 2012 Scheme.

For more information about getting financial support for your children through the CMS, see Child maintenance – where to start.

Asking the court to make a decision about your finances

You can apply for a court order for financial support at the end of a civil partnership. In most cases, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before it will consider your application.

The court will consider all the financial circumstances of both partners, including pension arrangements. In some circumstances, the court can also make an order for financial support for the children.

A court can make an order for regular payments to be made or a one-off lump sum. It can also make an order about pension arrangements. You might get help with legal costs when you make an application to court for financial support. However, you might have to pay some of these costs back out of the money or property you are given by the court order. This is called the statutory charge. Make sure your solicitor explains the statutory charge properly to you before you start court action. Where pension arrangements are involved, you should consider getting specialist financial advice.

For more information about help with legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

Housing rights at the end of a civil partnership

Both civil partners have the right to live in the family home and neither of you can make the other one leave. This is regardless of whether both of you, or only one of you, own or rent the home. This applies unless a court has ordered otherwise.

If your civil partnership breaks down, a court can help you or your partner to enforce short-term rights to the home. This can include:

  • the right to stay in your home
  • the right for move back in if you left
  • in certain circumstances, the right to stop your partner from coming into the home.

A court can also make long-term arrangements about housing. If there's a disagreement about housing, the court can deal with the disagreement alongside proceedings to dissolve a civil partnership. In most cases, the court will expect you to arrange a meeting with a family mediator first, before it will consider your application for a court order about housing. .

If you are thinking of going to court about your housing rights after the breakdown of your civil partnership, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or at your nearest Citizens Advice

For more information on what happens to your home if your civil partnership breaks down, see Relationship breakdown and housing.

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