Dissolving civil partnerships

This guide sets out the law and procedure if you wish to end your civil partnership. The process of ending a civil partnership is called dissolution or dissolving a civil partnership. Coming to the decision that you want to dissolve your civil partnership can be very difficult. If you are not sure about whether your partnership is at an end, there are relationship counselling services which may be useful in helping you to clarify how you feel and support you through your separation.

There may be other issues that need to be resolved such as your joint finances and arrangements for any children as to where they live and who they spend time with. Information on these issues can be found in Rights of Women’s guides on Financial arrangements after marriage breakdown, Children and the law: when parents separate and Lesbian parenting and the law. This guide relates only to the legal aspects of dissolving a civil partnership. For practical advice and emotional support see the Useful contacts section at the end of this leaflet.

The law and procedure in this guide applies from 6 April 2022. If you or your civil partner applied for a dissolution before 6 April 2022 please contact Rights of Women’s advice line for advice on your case.


How soon can I apply?

You cannot apply for dissolution until you have been in your civil partnership for one year.


Reasons for the dissolution

To obtain a dissolution you must confirm that your civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.  Irretrievably broken down means the civil partnership has ended permanently and cannot be fixed. If you are applying for a dissolution, you will be asked to confirm that your civil partnership has broken down on the application form.

It is no longer necessary to explain to the court why the civil partnership has broken down. If there has been abuse or there are other types of safety concerns, the court will want to know about these in other proceedings such as child arrangements but it will not affect the process of dissolving the civil partnership. Whatever the reason for the breakdown of the civil partnership, the end of a civil partnership is often emotionally difficult and you may find it helpful to see Useful contacts for organisations that can provide support.


How much will it cost?

Application fee

As of 1 March 2022 the court fee is £593. Court fees do change from time to time and you should ask your local court or check: www.gov.uk/court-fees-what-they-are

If you are on a low income the court may waive or reduce the fee if you apply for help with fees. For further information and to apply see www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees  

If you are making a joint application for a dissolution, then both you and your civil partner will need to qualify for help with fees, otherwise the full fee will be payable by one of you only. In that case you would need to agree how you wish to share the fee, and who will make payment to the court.

 

Other costs

If you would like a solicitor to help you, then your solicitor’s costs will depend upon their rates. Many law firms now offer a fixed fee.  Legal aid may be available if you have experienced domestic abuse.  See our legal guides Family Court proceedings: where can I get advice and support? and A guide to family law legal aid for further information.

 

Applying for your civil partner to pay the costs

You cannot include a claim for your civil partner to pay your legal costs in your application for a dissolution. If you want the court to order that your civil partner pays the costs of the dissolution, you need to make a separate application to the court. The court may order your civil partner to pay all or some of your costs, or you might be able to agree to share the costs between you. The form you use to make a costs application is form D11.

It is rare for a court to make a costs order. The most common reason for a court to make a costs order is likely to be where a party has behaved unreasonably through the process. This could be by trying to avoid being served with the papers, or disputing the application or without any basis.


The application process

You can apply for a dissolution online at www.gov.uk/end-civil-partnership/apply

If do not want to apply online you can make a paper application using Form D8. You can get an application form from your local court or from  the Government website.

Part of the application asks if you intend to make a financial claim against your civil partner. It is usually best to tick ‘yes’ to these boxes to keep your options open if you decide to apply for a financial order in the future. If you tick ‘yes’ this does not start a financial claim. To start the financial claim you need to make a separate application. If you want to make a financial claim see our legal guide A guide to financial arrangements after marriage breakdown.

The forms are designed to be completed without needing a solicitor, but you should seek advice from a solicitor or our legal advice line if possible.

There are two ways of applying for a dissolution. A sole application, and a joint application.


Sole application

A sole application is made by one party to the civil partnership. If you make the application yourself, you or your solicitor should complete all of the application form. You will be the applicant. Your partner will be the respondent.

 

Joint application

If you and your civil partner agree that dissolution is the right way forward, you can apply jointly to end your civil partnership. One of you will be applicant 1 and the other will be applicant 2. Both of you will need to complete the application form. Applicant 1 will complete most of the form. Other than that, it does not make any difference which of you is applicant 1 or 2.

 

What if we make a joint application and one of us stops cooperating?

A joint application can become a single application later in the process, for example if your civil partner refuses to sign paperwork or take other necessary steps to progress the dissolution.

Once a joint application becomes a sole application, it cannot go back to being a joint application.

 

Can a sole application be turned into a joint application?

No. If one civil partner makes a sole application then it will remain a sole application.

 

Keeping contact details confidential if you are applying for dissolution

You will need to provide the court with your contact details on the application. The respondent will receive a copy of the application. If you do not want the respondent to have your contact details then you must indicate this on the application. You do this by selecting ‘yes’ to the question which asks “Do you wish to keep your contact details confidential from your spouse or civil partner?” The court will remove your contact details from the information that is sent to the respondent.

 

Civil partnership certificate

You must provide the court with a certified copy of your civil partnership certificate with your application. If you are applying online you will be given information on how to upload your civil partnership certificate or send it by post. If you cannot find your civil partnership certificate, you can apply for a copy from the Registry Office in the district where you entered into the civil partnership or from the General Register Office.

If your civil partnership certificate is in another language you must arrange to have it translated and the translation certified by a notary public.

 

What happens after I send the application?

The court will allocate a case number to the application and start the process for the dissolution. This is known as issuing the application. The court will notify you when the application has been issued and tell you the next steps.

It may take a while for the court to receive and issue your application. If you need to start your dissolution urgently then seek legal advice on how to do this. See Useful contacts or contact Rights of Women’s advice line.

 

Sole application – letting the respondent know

The application asks you to provide the respondent’s usual email address and postal address. The court will use these contact details to let the respondent know about the application for dissolution. This is known as service.

Once the application for dissolution has been issued, the court will send an email to the respondent with the application, notification of proceedings and a form to acknowledge service. The court will also send a postal letter to tell the respondent about the email.

If you do not know the respondent’s email address then you can indicate on the application that you would like the court to serve the respondent by post only.

If you do not know the respondent’s postal address, but you do know the email address, then you can make a separate application to the court for permission to serve by email only using a form D11.

If you do not know the respondent’s usual postal address or email address and you are unable to obtain these details then you can apply for permission to serve the respondent in another way, or for permission to proceed with the dissolution without service called dispensing with service. You can make these applications using form D11. If possible, seek legal advice before you make this application.


Circumstances when you may have to serve the respondent

In most cases the court will serve the respondent. There may be situations when you should serve the respondent. This means you will need to ensure that the respondent receives the application, notification of proceedings and acknowledgement of service form.

The circumstances when you should serve the respondent are:

  • The respondent lives outside of England and Wales
  • The court has tried to serve the respondent and has been unable to do so
  • You choose to serve the respondent by selecting the relevant box on the application form

If you are responsible for serving the respondent then you must do so within 28 days from the date the application was issued. If there are good reasons why you cannot serve the respondent within this time then you can apply for an extension of time. You will have to explain to the court why you have not been able to serve the respondent and show that you have been doing everything you can to serve them.

 

Responding to an application for dissolution

The respondent is required to send their acknowledgement of service to the court within fourteen days, starting on the day after they receive the dissolution documents. This can be done online or by paper using form D10. Time limits are longer if the respondent is outside England and Wales.

The acknowledgement of service form allows the respondent to say whether or not they agree with the contents of the dissolution application and whether they intend to dispute the dissolution. The respondent cannot dispute the dissolution on the basis that they do not agree that the civil partnership has broken down irretrievably or that they want to stay in the civil partnership.

Respondents who wish to dispute a dissolution must also submit a D8B form, called the answer. It is only possible to dispute a dissolution for one of the following reasons:

  • The court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the case
  • The civil partnership is not valid
  • The civil partnership has already legally ended

The fee for disputing a dissolution currently £245.

The answer needs to be submitted within 21 days from the date that the acknowledgement of service must be filed.

Example The dissolution was issued on 3rd May 2022 and was served on the respondent by email on 6th May 2022 and a notice was also sent by post confirming the email had been sent. The respondent has until 20th May 2022 to send the acknowledgement of service to the court either online or on paper. If the respondent intends to dispute the dissolution, they have until 10th June 2022 to submit the answer using the D8B form.

If your civil partner disputes the dissolution you should seek legal advice.

 

Keeping your address confidential when responding to a dissolution

If your civil partner has applied for a dissolution and you are the respondent, remember that your civil partner will receive a copy of your acknowledgment of service (and answer if you are disputing the dissolution). If you do not want your civil partner to have your contact details then do all of the following:

  • Do not put your contact details on the acknowledgement of service or answer
  • Indicate on the form that your contact details are confidential
  • Send your contact details to the court using a form C8

 

Applying for a conditional order

Once service has been dealt with the next step is for the applicant, or applicants to apply for a conditional order.

You must wait 20 weeks from the date of the application being issued before applying for the conditional order.

Once this 20 week period has expired you may apply for a conditional order on a form D84.

If you were originally applying jointly, and you are now applying as a sole applicant for the conditional order, you must send a copy of the D84 form to your civil partner at the same time you submit it to the court.

 

What happens after you apply for a conditional order

The judge will look at the information given to the court and consider whether you are entitled to a dissolution. If the dissolution is undisputed, you do not have to attend court for a hearing. The judge simply looks at the documents.

If the judge is satisfied you are entitled to a dissolution, then the court will send you a Certificate of Entitlement to Conditional Order. This will give a date and time at which your conditional order will be made at court. You do not have to attend court on this date.  The conditional order is the first stage of the dissolution and does not end the civil partnership.

 

Applying for the final order

Six weeks and one day after the date of your conditional order, you can apply for your final order. You do this using a form D36.

If it has been over 12 months since the date of the conditional order then the court will require further information from the applicant which you include on the form.

If the applicant does not apply for the final order, the respondent can apply 3 months after the end of the six weeks that the applicant could have applied.

If you applied jointly for the initial application and conditional order, and now you are applying as a sole applicant for the final order, you must give at least 14 days notice to your civil partner that you are going to ask for the conditional order to be made final. You must prove to the court that you sent the notice to your civil partner by sending a certificate of service to the court. You can then apply for the conditional order using form D36A.

It is only when the final order has been made by the court that your civil partnership has formally ended. You and your civil partnership are then free to enter a civil partnership again or marry if you wish. If possible, you should review and seek legal advice on any existing or new wills.

 

How long will it take?

The time limits to process a dissolution require just over 6 months from application to final order. However, the process is likely to take longer depending upon how long it takes for the court to process each stage of the dissolution and how long it takes each civil partner to respond.

It is only possible to ask for the time limits to be reduced in exceptional circumstances, for example, a civil partner is terminally ill and wishes to dissolve the civil partnership before passing away.

It is often advisable to postpone applying for the final order until any financial proceedings have concluded as it can affect your rights to live in the family home, pensions, or other issues relating to joint finances. If your civil partner is uncooperative or there are complications resolving the finances, the dissolution could take much longer.

 

If you are unsure about whether a legal relationship you formed outside of the UK will be recognised in England and Wales for legal purposes then see our legal guide Entering into a civil partnership which provides further information.

 

Jurisdiction

The courts of England and Wales can only deal with dissolution applications if there is an appropriate connection, for example if one or both of you live in England or Wales or you are both from England or Wales.

It may be that you and your civil partner have connections with more than one country and that you have the option to get a dissolution here or abroad. Choosing the right country to dissolve the civil partnership is important as it can have a big impact on how the civil partnership finances are shared. If you think your civil partner intends to start dissolution proceedings in another country, you should seek family law advice urgently as you may wish to start dissolution proceedings in England or Wales before they do.

 

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can and does occur in all relationships, including lesbian and gay relationships.

You can find a range of legal guides on violence against women on here. If you think you may have experienced domestic abuse see Useful contacts for organisations that might be able to help you. You can also get legal advice by contacting Rights of Women’s advice lines.

 

The law is complex and may have changed since this guide was produced.  This guide is designed to provide general information only for the law in England and Wales.   You should seek up-to-date, independent legal advice. 

Rights of Women does not accept responsibility for any reliance placed on the legal information contained in this guide.

© Rights of Women, April 2022

 

For free, confidential, legal advice contact our advice lines


Useful contacts

Emergency Contacts:

Police (emergency)  

999

24 hour domestic violence helpline

0808 200 0247

www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk

National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline

0300 999 5428 or 0800 999 5428

Find a lawyer:

The Law Society (to find a solicitor)

www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor/

Resolution (to find a family law specialist lawyer)

020 3841 0300

www.resolution.org.uk/

Public Access Portal

www.directaccessportal.co.uk

Legal advice and support:

Citizens Advice

www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/getadvice.htm

Law Centres Network

020 3637 1330

www.lawcentres.org.uk

LawWorks Clinic Network

www.lawworks.org.uk

Advocate (previously the Bar Pro Bono Unit)

020 7092 3960 (voicemail only service)

www.weareadvocate.org.uk

Support Through Court (previously the Personal Support Unit)

0300 081 0006

https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/contact-us/

Disability Law Service

020 7791 9800

https://dls.org.uk/

Other contacts:

Relate

www.relate.org.uk

Switchboard LBGT+ Helpline

0300 330 0630

www.switchboard.lgbt/about-us/

Stonewall

0800 0502020

www.stonewall.org.uk

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