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Ending a civil partnership

This advice applies to Scotland

Can you end your civil partnership in Scotland

Generally, most people who became civil partners in the UK and live in Scotland will be able to end their civil partnership in Scotland. You have to:

If you're not sure if you meet the rules because you got married abroad or one of you lives abroad, contact a solicitor

Which dissolution procedure is right for you 

If you want to end your civil partnership before one of you dies you need to get permission from a court. Ending a civil partnership in Scotland is called dissolution. 

There are two ways to get a dissolution of a civil partnership:

  • DIY dissolution of a civil partnership - also called the simplified procedure, or
  • the ordinary procedure.

If there are issues with the legality of the civil partnership you may be able to get a decree of nullity.

Both of these options are final. If you want the option of reconciling later, it might be better to separate informally, or formally with a separation agreement - see Separating in a civil partnership.

If you don't have any children under 16

If you don't have children under 16 and can agree about how to deal with your money and property you can use a simplified (DIY) procedure to get a dissolution of a civil partnership. You don't have to use a solicitor so you can keep the costs of the dissolution of a civil partnership low.

If you don't agree about how you'll deal with your money or property you need to use the ordinary procedure. 

If you have children under 16

If you have children under 16 you have to use the ordinary procedure to get a dissolution of a civil partnership.

If you can agree about the grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership and what to do about the children, money and property the dissolution of a civil partnership can go to court as an undefended case.

If you cannot agree about the grounds for the dissolution of a civil partnership, or issues about the children, money or property the dissolution of a civil partnership application will go to court as a defended case.

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 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 (also known as a decree of nullity).

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 have children, the court will not grant an annulment unless it is satisfied about the arrangements for the children. For more about children, see Children at the end of a civil partnership.

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.

Apply for a DIY dissolution 

If you're eligible for a DIY dissolution you still need to prove there's an irretrievable breakdown of your civil partnership or that one of you is applying for a gender recognition certificate.

You apply to the sheriff court for a DIY dissolution using the appropriate form and pay the fee. The forms are available to download from the Scottish Courts website.

There is also some useful guidance on DIY proceedings on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website.

Apply for an ordinary dissolution

If you want to start dissolution of the civil partnership under the ordinary procedure you should use a solicitor. Find a solicitor who specialises in family law on the Law Society of Scotland website.

The partner who is applying for the dissolution of the civil partnership is called the pursuer. The other partner is the defender.

The pursuer has to prove there's an irretrievable breakdown of your civil partnership or that one of you is applying for a gender recognition certificate.

The defender has to decide whether they agree with the grounds you're using to argue there's been an irretrievable breakdown of the relationship and what you're suggesting should happen about children, money and property. The case can either be:

  • Undefended - if you both agree about the grounds for irretrievable breakdown and what to do about your children, money and property
  • Defended - if you don't agree about the grounds or what to do about children, money and property.

Undefended dissolution of a civil partnership

In an undefended dissolution of a civil partnership, it's best to go to a solicitor before you apply for advice on whether you have sufficient evidence to prove irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. Paperwork will be submitted by the solicitor and is likely to include a summons (or initial writ) to start the proceedings and the sworn statements (affidavits) made by the pursuer and any witnesses.

If you have children, the court will need to be satisfied that you have made satisfactory arrangements for them. The court may want to discuss the arrangements and possibly meet the children if they are old enough. It can take longer if children are involved and the court is not satisfied with the arrangements being made for them. For more information see Children at the end of a civil partnership.

When the court agrees to grant the dissolution of the civil partnership it issues an extract decree of dissolution of a civil partnership.

Defended dissolution of a civil partnership

A defended dissolution of a civil partnership will normally be heard in the sheriff court, although the case can be transferred to the Court of Session if the issues that have to be resolved are complicated or there is a lot of money or property to make decisions about.

Paperwork will be submitted by the solicitor and is likely to include a summons (or initial writ) to start the proceedings and sworn statements (affidavits) made by the pursuer and any witnesses. If your partner doesn't agree about the grounds you're using to prove irretrievable breakdown of the relationship, or proposed arrangements for children or property, they will have to send a Notice of Intention to Defend to the court when they first receive the initial writ from the court. There is likely to be a court hearing for a judge to decide whether the civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.

Even if the court agrees that the civil partnership has broken down, it has to be satisfied that you have made satisfactory arrangements for any children. They may want to discuss arrangements about the children and possibly meet them if they are old enough. For more information see Children at the end of a civil partnership.

If the court agrees to grant the dissolution of the civil partnership, it issues an extract decree of dissolution of a civil partnership.

Legal fees can be very high if there are long disputes. It is advisable wherever possible for you both to try to come to an agreement about as much as possible before going to court. There are organisations to help you reach agreements out of court.

What irretrievable breakdown of a civil partnership means

There are two grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership:

If you are applying for dissolution of a civil partnership on the grounds that your relationship has broken down irretrievably you will have to show that the civil partnership no longer exists on a permanent basis. It can be proved in one of the following ways:

  • there is unreasonable behaviour
  • you both agree to the dissolution of the civil partnership and you've lived separate lives for at least one year
  • one of you doesn’t agree to the dissolution of the civil partnership and you've lived separate lives for at least two years.

Unreasonable behaviour

A court may grant a dissolution of a civil partnership if you or your partner has behaved so badly that the other can no longer bear living together. Unreasonable behaviour can include:

  • mental or physical cruelty including violence or abuse
  • financial irresponsibility
  • being sexually unfaithful.

Abuse can include coercive controlling behaviour like dominating a partner, not letting the partner leave the house or speak to neighbours and friends.

If one of you doesn't agree to the dissolution of a civil partnership, evidence and details will be needed, for example, evidence from witnesses such as friends or medical evidence.

For more information about help you can get if your partner has been violent, see Domestic abuse.

Living separate lives for one year and you both agree to the dissolution

If you've been separated for one year and you both agree to a dissolution of the civil partnership, a court will accept this as proof of irretrievable breakdown of the civil partnership.

You'll need to show the court that you haven't been living as civil partners for at least a year. This is easier to show if you don't live together. But some people continue to live in the same house after they separate because they can't afford to move, or they need to be close to work. You can still prove you are separated if you don't treat each other like partners - for example, you don't have sex.

The one year apart will still be considered as continuous even if you have actually lived together for up to six months within it. For example if you separated in January, got back together in April but split again in September the first three months of separation still count towards the total year apart.

Living separate lives for two years when one of you doesn't agree to the dissolution

If you have been separated for two years continuously, you can apply for a dissolution of the civil partnership without your partner's agreement. A court will usually agree to a dissolution of the civil partnership if you have been separated for two years.

If you're applying for an interim gender recognition certificate

A transgender person who has an interim gender recognition certificate can end their civil partnership on this ground. They must apply to a Gender Recognition Panel.

There is more information on applying for a gender recognition certificate on the GOV.UK website.

You may be able to get help with legal costs. Whether or not you get it depends on both you and your partner's income, capital and how reasonable the Scottish Legal Aid Board thinks it is to give you help.

If you do get help, in some cases you might have to pay some of the legal costs back, out of money or property you are given when the dissolution of the civil partnership comes through. This is called clawback. Make sure your solicitor explains clawback to you before you start the case.

For more information see Help with legal costs.

Who to tell 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
  • 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.

Children at the end of a civil partnership

When you stop living together, you'll have to decide who will look after the children. Generally it is best if everyone can work together to agree about what is in the children’s best interests.

The Scottish Government's 'Your Parenting Plan' is a guide to making practical arrangements for your children if you live apart.

You or your partner could both have parental responsibilities and rights for the children. This could be because you are the child’s parent or because a court decided that it was best for the child to give you parental rights and responsibilities. It may also be because the child was conceived by donor insemination or fertility treatment on or after 6 April 2009 and both partners are legal partners. When you have parental responsibilities and rights for a child it means that you have to safeguard and promote the child’s health, development and welfare. You also have the right to have the child living with you or decide where the child should live.

You may be able to make arrangements between yourselves about where the children are to live and what contact should take place with the other parent. However, if this is not possible, the court can make the decisions about the children.

If you are getting a dissolution of the civil partnership, the court will not grant it until it has looked at the arrangements for the children. The court is primarily concerned about the children’s welfare. You'll have to give the names of all dependent children of the family. Children under 16 are usually thought of as dependent. The duty to provide for (maintain) a child usually lasts until a child is 18 or 19 if in full-time non-advanced education or if in full time further education up to 25. The court will want details of children who are the children of both partners together, adopted children, step-children and any children who have been treated as part of the family. It doesn't include foster children.

You have to give details of how the children will be looked after. You'll need to say where the children will live and who they will live with, as well as the financial arrangements for their support. The court's main concern will be to decide what's in the best interests of the children. If the court is satisfied that the arrangements made by the parents for the children are in their best interests it will not change them. It will only make decisions where this is necessary to sort out a disagreement about arrangements. Decisions made by the court are called orders.

You could get help from a mediator or collaborative law practitioner to make arrangements about the children, see Family mediation or collaboration.

If you are thinking of going to court about arrangements for your children, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or go to a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer

Court orders if you can't agree childcare and contact

A court will only make an order concerning children if it feels it is in the best interests of the children to do so. A court can make orders about:

  • who the child should live with - called a residence order or 'custody'
  • who the child should have contact with - called a contact order including what sort of contact it should be and whether it should be supervised
  • preventing something happening, for example, a name change
  • specific issues to do with the child's care.

Residence orders

The court can make a residence order in favour of:

  • one parent. This means that the child must live with that parent
  • both parents. One residence order can be made for both parents, even if they are not living together. The order will say how much time the child will live with each parent
  • a third person, for example, a grandparent.

Contact orders

The court will normally expect you and your partner to make your own arrangements about maintaining contact with your children. The court will only make a court order if you can't agree or there are concerns about a parent having contact with a child (for example, because of domestic abuse).

The contact order may include conditions. 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.

Preventing something from happening

A court can make an order called an interdict to prevent one parent from doing something that the court thinks is not in the child’s best interests.

Specific issues

A court can make an order about a specific issue that a child's parents cannot agree about, for example, religious education.

What happens to household goods and other possessions

If a couple split up and they disagree about who owns household goods and possessions acquired during the civil partnership it is presumed they are owned jointly. Gifts and inherited goods belong to the person who received them. Goods acquired before the civil partnership belong to the person who acquired them. If you can't agree about who owns all the goods and possessions you may need help. It may be useful to ask a mediator or collaborative law practitioner for help as going to court is expensive. If you are having to go to court about other financial matters any disputes about valuable goods may have to be dealt with at the same time. You should ask your solicitor about disputes about household goods and possessions.

Financial support at the end of a civil partnership

Until you have a dissolution of your civil partnership you and your partner have a legal obligation to provide financial support for each other.

You may need help to agree financial arrangements - see Family mediation or collaboration.

Agreeing financial support for each partner

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 will meet rent or mortgage payments and household bills or pay for the children's clothing and holidays.

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

Court orders for money from a former civil partner

You can apply for a court order for money at the end of a civil partnership. The court will consider all financial circumstances of both partners, including pension arrangements.

A court can make an order for regular payments to be made or for a one-off lump sum. It can also make an order about pension arrangements.

You might get help with legal costs when you apply to court for financial support. However, you might have to pay some of the legal costs back, out of money or property you are given by the court order. This is called clawback. Make sure your solicitor explains clawback properly to you before you start court action. Where pension arrangements are involved, you should also consider getting specialist financial advice.

Agreeing financial support for children

Partners who agree can make a voluntary arrangement or family-based arrangement for money for children. If you make an agreement in writing with the help of a solicitor, the agreement can be legally enforceable. If you need advice on the options available for arranging child maintenance and for advice on how to set up a voluntary or family-based child maintenance agreement, you can contact the Child Maintenance Options (CMO) Service. Their helpline number is 0800 988 0988 or go to the CMO website.

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.

The issue of money for children is complex and you may find it helpful to get further advice from an experienced adviser, for example, a family law solicitor or a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer

For more information see How to make a family-based agreement or Child maintenance - where to start.

Housing rights at the end of a civil partnership

At the end of your civil partnership, the court can give you or your partner rights to the home or can take rights to occupy the home away from either of you. As long as you are both still living in the home, whether it is owned or rented, you both have rights to live in it.

If one partner has been violent there are special orders the court can make to change the violent partner's rights to the home and exclude them. For more information about help you can get if your partner has been violent to you, see Domestic abuse.

If one of you is a sole owner or a sole tenant and the other partner leaves the home, they may have to go to court to enforce their rights to get back in.

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 a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer

If you and your partner are owner-occupiers the value of the family home is likely to be an issue within the dissolution of a civil partnership settlement. You should see an experienced adviser about decisions that can be made about the family home.

Anyone who wants to protect their rights should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer.

Paying the mortgage when a civil partnership breaks down

If a mortgage is in joint names, both people are jointly and solely liable for the mortgage payments. This is known as joint and several liability.

This means that if one of you leaves and stops contributing to the mortgage payments, the mortgage lender can ask the other person to pay the full amount.

If a mortgage is in one person's name, only that person is liable for the mortgage payments.

However, if your name is not on the mortgage and you want to stay in your home, you will need to keep up the mortgage payments. If your ex-partner is no longer making any payments, you will need to pay the full amount, otherwise the mortgage lender can start action to repossess your home. Get in touch with the lender and negotiate what payments might be accepted to stay in the home. You have the right to do this because you are in a civil partnership.

Paying the rent when a civil partnership breaks down

If you're both on the lease

A joint tenancy means that all of the tenants named on the tenancy agreement are jointly and solely liable for the rent. This is known as joint and several liability.

This means that if the other joint tenant leaves and stops making payments towards the rent, the landlord can ask you to pay the full amount. That's why it's important to keep paying the full amount, otherwise you may get evicted.

In some cases, a joint tenant can end the joint tenancy by giving notice to the landlord. If you want to stay in the property you'll need to make sure this doesn't happen or if it has happened, you can negotiate with the landlord. Your landlord may be able to give you a new tenancy in your name only. If you are in this situation you should get advice.

If you stay in your home after your partner has left, depending on your income, you may be able to get Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. If there is a mortgage, you might get help with the mortgage interest.

For more information see, Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.

If only your partner is on the lease

If a tenancy is in the name of your civil partner, they will be liable to pay the rent for as long as the tenancy continues. If the rent isn't paid and arrears build up, the landlord may take action to evict you.

If your ex-partner is no longer paying any rent, you should negotiate with the landlord to pay the rent because you have the right to do so. If the landlord won't accept the rent you should get advice straightaway. If there are arrears you should also get advice about how to pay these off if you want to stay in the home.

You can get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out more about the advice options we offer.

Family mediation or collaboration

Family mediation or collaborative practice are two ways of helping couples who are separating or divorcing to sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children, without having to go to court. To use either of these options, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding but may help you to start drawing up an agreement. Mediation involves you and your partner working with a trained and impartial mediator to reach agreement. Collaborative practice involves you and your partner meeting together with your solicitors to discuss the issues and find solutions and agreement. There may be an additional need to find out how any children are feeling before decisions are taken. 

A couple can use family mediation or collaborative practice as soon as possible after they have decided their relationship is ending and they feel able to discuss any disputes. Mediation and collaboration 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. They can also be used after a separation or dissolution of a civil partnership if new issues arise or there are outstanding issues to be resolved.

There is more information about mediation and a national map of local services on the Relationships Scotland website.

Some local solicitors may be skilled in family mediation. You can check what is available in your area by contacting the Law Society of Scotland:

The Law Society of Scotland
Atria One
144 Morrison Street
Edinburgh
EH3 8EX

Tel: 0131 226 7411
Fax: 0131 225 2934
Email: lawscot@lawscot.org.uk
Website: www.lawscot.org.uk

There is more information about collaborative family law practice on the Consensus Collaboration Scotland website.

The Spark

The Spark provides relationship counselling services for families, couples, individuals and young people and has regional centres across Scotland where clients can access face to face counselling. Telephone and online counselling is also available. There is a charge for counselling but what you have to pay can be negotiated. The Spark has a relationship helpline offering immediate relationship support. Calls are free from landlines and mobile networks. If you prefer to type rather than talk you can use the webchat instant messaging support service which you can access from the top of the homepage of the website. The contact details are:

The Spark
General enquiries: 0808 802 0050
Relationship Helpline: 0808 802 2088 (Mon, Wed and Thurs 11am-2pm).
Appointments: 0808 802 0050
Email: Contact form available on the website
Website: www.thespark.org.uk

Downloads

You can find a summary of this information about ending a civil partnership in our fact sheet, see Ending a civil partnership [ 210 kb].

Converting a civil partnership to a marriage

With the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland, it is possible for a same sex couple to convert their existing civil partnership into a marriage. The civil partnership will end on conversion.

For more information about converting a civil partnership to a marriage, see Getting married.

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