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Ending a civil partnership

What is a civil partnership

A civil partnership is a legally-registered relationship between two people of the same sex.

How does a civil partnership come to an end

A civil partnership will come to an end if you or your civil partner dies. If you want to end your civil partnership before one of you dies, you need to get permission from a court. There are different ways you can ask a court to end your civil partnership. You can ask the court to grant:

  • a dissolution order. Your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year before you can apply for a dissolution order
  • a separation order. You don't have to wait until your civil partnership has lasted for a year before you can apply for a separation order. You can apply for a separation order at any time
  • an annulment.

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 need to sort out financial arrangements if your civil partnership ends.

You might need to sort out housing problems if your civil partnership ends.

Who to inform when your civil partnership ends

If you and your partner are separating, you may need to inform:

  • your landlord or housing office
  • your housing benefit office
  • your council tax office
  • your mortgage lender
  • water, gas, electricity and telephone companies
  • your benefits office
  • your tax office, particularly if you're getting tax credits
  • current school and future school if you have children and they are moving
  • your bank or any other financial institution if you have a joint account. It may be advisable for you to freeze the account to prevent your partner withdrawing some or all of the money
  • hire purchase or credit companies
  • insurance companies, particularly if you have joint policies
  • the post office, if you want mail redirected
  • your doctor, dentist and child health clinic.

Dissolution orders

If you want to dissolve 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

To apply for a dissolution order, you will need to fill in some forms. You can get these by going to the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.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 might be able to get legal aid.

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

Civil partnerships and separation orders

If you want to separate from your civil partner but don't want to dissolve the civil partnership (or it's been less than a year since you registered your civil partnership), you can apply to court for a separation order.

You don't have to wait for a year after registering your civil partnership before you can apply for a separation order and you don't have to have been living apart from your partner first. However, neither of you will be free to register another civil partnership (or to marry) unless you get a dissolution order.

You can get a separation order from the Family Court. The Family Court will grant you a separation order if you can 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 separation order
  • you and your partner have lived apart for at least five years, if only one of you agrees to the separation order
  • your partner deserted you at least two years ago.

If you get a separation order and you want to apply for a dissolution order later on, there's nothing to stop you doing this. You'll be able to use the same evidence that you used to get the separation order and you won't have to prove the same things all over again.

Unreasonable behaviour

You may want to end your civil partnership because of your partner's unreasonable behaviour. Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that means you can't be expected to live with your civil partner any longer. Unreasonable behaviour could include:

  • physical and mental cruelty to you or your children
  • verbal abuse
  • financial irresponsibility
  • drunkenness
  • being sexually unfaithful
  • passing on certain sexually-transmitted diseases.

There may have been a number of incidents of unreasonable behaviour during the civil partnership. Each incident in itself does not have to be serious. A long period of less serious incidents may be enough to end a civil partnership. One very serious incident may also be enough, for example, if your partner has sexually abused a child.

When you apply to court for a dissolution order, you should be able to give a detailed account of the behaviour which you think has led to the breakdown of your civil partnership. If possible, include dates and places of incidents.

If you stayed with your partner for six months or more after the date of the last incident of unreasonable behaviour, the court might think that you didn't find the behaviour that unreasonable.

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.

Desertion

You might want to end your civil partnership because your partner has deserted you. This means they have left the home against your wishes with no good reason. They must have been away for at least two years just before you apply to end the civil partnership.

When you apply to end the civil partnership, you must say that your partner has left and the date that they went away. You must also give the circumstances of how your partner left and that they have stayed away without your agreement.

In some cases, if your partner has deserted you, this could count as unreasonable behaviour. If your partner's desertion counts as unreasonable behaviour, you won't have to wait two years before you apply to end the civil partnership.

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 register 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:

  • void. This means that, in effect, the civil partnership never existed; or
  • 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.

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.

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. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be able to help. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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.

In certain pilot areas, there is a free helpline for separating parents in dispute about their children. Further information can be found on the CAFCASS website at www.cafcass.gov.uk.

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.

For more information about finding a solicitor, see Using a solicitor. You can also get help with finding a solicitor from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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.

For useful fact sheets about contact with children, visit the Coram Children's Legal Centre website at www.childrenslegalcentre.com and the Rights of Women website at www.rightsofwomen.org.uk PDF .

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

If you both agree to financial support, this is called a voluntary agreement or family-based arrangement. 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.

If you need advice on the options available for arranging child maintenance and for advice on how to set up a voluntary child maintenance agreement, you can contact the Child Maintenance Options Service at: www.cmoptions.org.

The Child Maintenance Options Service can help you:

  • understand the options for making a child maintenance arrangement
  • check that any existing arrangement is right for you and your child
  • estimate how much child maintenance you would pay or get
  • refer you to other organisations for help and advice.

For more information about making a family-based 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.

Court orders

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 case 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. These are called home rights and 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 a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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

Family mediation and arbitration

What is family mediation

Family mediation is a way of helping couples who are separating or dissolving their civil partnership to sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children. To use mediation, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. You can refer yourself or be referred by a solicitor or adviser. If you are involved in court proceedings, the court may refer you to mediation, or if there are children involved, to a CAFCASS officer.

An independent trained mediator meets you both (this can be separately or together) to understand the issues between you and help you reach an agreement. At the end of the mediation process, the mediator will write up the proposed agreement and check that both parties understand what this would mean for them. You may wish to get legal advice from a solicitor. For example, if you want the mediated agreement to be turned into a legally binding agreement.

To find out more about mediation, see Family mediation video.

What are the benefits of family mediation

The benefits of mediation are:

  • it gives couples a greater say in what happens
  • it's less stressful and involves less conflict than going to court
  • it improves communication between couples
  • it's quicker and cheaper than court action
  • agreements can be changed when circumstances change
  • it considers the needs of children above the feelings of the parties
  • it is less upsetting for children involved and helps them continue important family relationships.

When to use family mediation

A couple can use family mediation services as soon as they have decided their relationship is ending and they feel able to discuss any disputes. Mediation can be helpful before legal proceedings begin, to encourage co-operation between the couple and to prevent disputes from getting worse and agreement becoming harder to reach in the future. Family mediation can also be used after a separation or dissolution if new issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.

If you want to apply to the court for an order to settle a disagreement about the children, money or property, in most cases you will be expected to contact a mediator and arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting to see if you can resolve the dispute without going to court. The meeting can take place jointly or separately. There will be some situations where you will not need to attend a meeting, for example, where the police are investigating domestic violence.

Paying for mediation

You may be able to apply for legal aid to get financial help with the costs of family mediation. If you cannot get legal aid, you will have to pay privately for it. You should ask the mediator for a break-down of their charges as these may vary. You should ask about the options and shop around.

You can receive a free mediation session if one of you is getting legal aid.

For more information on financial help with the legal costs of family mediation, see Help with legal costs.

Finding a mediator

You can find a mediator on the Family Mediation Council's website at www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk.

Find out more about mediation

You can find out more about mediation at www.justice.gov.uk PDF .

Court-based dispute resolution

If you ask a court to make decisions about arrangements for your children at the end of your civil partnership, they will usually ask a CAFCASS officer to get involved.

CAFCASS officers work for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). They are independent of the courts and other agencies such as social services, education and health authorities. They are qualified in social work and experienced in working with children and families.

The CAFCASS officer will try and help you and your partner work out the best possible arrangements for your children.

Sometimes the court will ask you and your partner, and any other parents involved, to meet with the CAFCASS officer to see if you can sort things out without having to go on with the court case. If you can come to an agreement at this stage, the judge can make an order to confirm what was agreed.

If you can't come to an agreement, the judge can order that a report is produced before the case goes any further.

Court-based dispute resolution schemes are free.

For more information about court-based dispute resolution and CAFCASS officers, in England visit the CAFCASS website at: www.cafcass.gov.uk, and in Wales, see wales.gov.uk.

Family arbitration

Family arbitration is a form of dispute resolution which enables couples to reach an agreement about family disputes without going to court. In contrast to family mediation, it is a more formal process and is similar to court proceedings. In addition, an arbitrator's decision, known as an award, is final and binding on the parties.

At present, family arbitration is available only through the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) Scheme. The Scheme covers financial and property disputes on relationship breakdown. It does not cover disputes about children, except for financial disputes.

IFLA strongly recommends you get legal advice before entering into an arbitration agreement.

You cannot get legal aid for arbitration.

For more information about how to apply for arbitration and about the Scheme's rules, contact IFLA at:

Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA)
PO Box 302
Orpington
Kent
BR6 8QX
Tel: 01689 820272
Email: info@ifla.org.uk or through the contact form on their website
Website: http://ifla.org.uk/

Further help

The Money Advice Service, Divorce and Separation website

www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

The Advicenow website

National Family Mediation website

Information about separation, divorce and family mediation is available from the National Family Mediation website at: www.nfm.org.uk.

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)

www.cafcass.gov.uk (in England)
wales.gov.uk (in Wales)

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