Ways to end your marriage or civil partnership

This advice applies to England. See advice for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales

If you’re married and want to permanently end your marriage, you should apply for a divorce.

If you’re in a civil partnership and want to permanently end your civil partnership, you should apply for a dissolution.

If you don’t want to get a divorce or dissolution, you can get a legal separation. For example, you can get a legal separation if you don’t agree with divorce or dissolution for religious or cultural reasons.

If your marriage or civil partnership isn’t legally valid, you can ask the court to end it - this is called an ‘annulment’. For example, you could get your marriage or civil partnership annulled if you were forced into it or one of you was under 16.

Important

If you need to speak with someone about your partner being aggressive

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

If you're a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to an adviser.

Before you end your marriage or civil partnership, you'll also need to decide:

If you've been married or in a civil partnership less than a year

You can’t get a divorce or dissolution yet. 

You can get a legal separation, but it’s usually better to wait until you can get a divorce or dissolution.

While you’re waiting to start getting a divorce or dissolution, you and your partner can get a separation agreement. This lets you agree the details of how you want to separate before you get a divorce or dissolution.

Getting a divorce or dissolution

You’ll need to show your marriage or civil partnership has ‘irretrievably broken down’. This means there’s no way you can work through your problems. You can find out how to get a divorce or dissolution.

A legal separation is a way of separating without getting a divorce or dissolution - it’s also known as a ‘judicial separation. It lets you and your partner make formal decisions about things like your finances and living arrangements, but you’ll still be married or in a civil partnership.

You might get a legal separation if you can’t or don’t want to get a divorce or dissolution - for example:

  • you don’t want a divorce or dissolution for religious or cultural reasons

  • you’ve been married or in a civil partnership less than a year

Getting a legal separation costs £365 - once you’ve paid the fee there are no further costs.

You and your partner only need to make 1 application. You can send the application from:

  • both of you together - called a joint application

  • just you or your partner - called a sole application

A legal separation doesn’t stop you from getting a divorce or dissolution at a later date. You’ll have to pay another fee to get a divorce or dissolution.

You can find out how to apply for legal separation on GOV.UK.

Annulling your marriage or civil partnership

If you don't think your marriage or civil partnership is legal, you can ask the court to end it - this is called 'annulment'

If the court gives you an annulment, they'll look at your situation and decide if your marriage or civil partnership is either:

  • void - this means the marriage or civil partnership never legally existed

  • voidable - this means the marriage or civil partnership was legal when it was registered but it isn't legal anymore

Annulling your marriage or civil partnership costs £593 and takes a few months to complete.

Check if you can ask for an annulment

You’ll need to have a reason to get an annulment. For example, some reasons for getting an annulment include:

  • one of you was already married or in a civil partnership

  • you didn’t properly agree to the marriage or civil partnership - for example, you were drunk or forced into it

  • you haven’t had sex with your partner since you got married - this doesn’t apply to same-sex couples or civil partners

You should get legal advice before applying to annul your marriage or civil partnership. You can find a solicitor on the Resolution website

You can also check how to find​​ free or affordable legal help.

Page last reviewed on 23 August 2019