Just like married couples, gay or straight couples in civil partnerships can see their relationship breakdown. And just like divorce with marriage, the law provides a solution – civil partnership dissolution
Civil Partnerships – now for same-sex and opposite sex couples
Since December 21st 2005 same sex couples have been able to register their relationship as a civil partnership provided both are at least sixteen years old. The Civil Partnership Act does not, however, currently apply to unmarried heterosexual co-habitees nor does it give any rights to gay or lesbian couples who do not formally register. Same sex marriages contracted abroad have also been recognized as valid from 5 December 2005.
Civil Partnerships were finally extended to heterosexual couples on 2 December 2019. It will prove interesting to see if the UK follows the experience in Holland – where civil partnerships have been available to same-sex couples since 1998 and where a civil partnership, rather than marriage, accounted for nearly a quarter of all unions in 2018.
Although same-sex couples in England and Wales have been able to marry from 29 March 2014, and to convert an earlier civil partnership into a marriage if they choose to do so, doing so did not remove the availability of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. In fact 890 civil partnerships were formed in England and Wales in 2016, an increase of 3.4% compared with 2015.
How our team can help you
If you’re looking for solicitors to help you with your civil partnership dissolution – we can help. Our 5 strong family law team represent gay and lesbian couples in civil partnership dissolution both locally in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset – and throughout England and Wales – from our offices in Salisbury, Andover, Fordingbridge and Amesbury.
Worried about Civil Partnership Dissolution? Call us today. We offer a FREE initial phone call phone call, and FREE 30 minute appointment for all aspects of family law advice.
Civil Partnership Registration
The registration process is straightforward and similar to a civil marriage. Couples must have lived in England and Wales for at least a week, to have given at least fifteen day’s notice of their wish to register and the time and place of their planned registration at a licensed location – the registration itself is simple and once the register has been signed their relationship is formalised as a Civil Partnership.
Effects of a Civil Partnership
As a result of entering a civil partnership, same-sex couples acquire rights and obligations similar, but not identical to, those of married couples, although the legal formalities do differ. Some rights do not come into effect until the death of one of the partners or dissolution of the civil partnership. In the event of death, the Civil Partnership Act gives a right of succession to property and the right to claim provision from a deceased partner’s Estate, so the same sort of thinking should be applied towards Will planning and inheritance tax as should be done by married couples. Those registering a Civil Partnership can also adopt as a couple.
Existing documents including Wills and Trusts which refer to spouses will not automatically include civil partners as beneficiaries. A civil partnership, like marriage, invalidates an earlier Will. Anyone planning to enter a civil partnership should therefore contact our Wills Team to make a fresh Will.
Dissolution of a Civil Partnership
Civil partnership dissolution is by Court order. Like divorce, the ground for dissolution is the breakdown of the relationship. Again like divorce, there are a number of grounds to prove breakdown of the relationship namely:
- The other partner has behaved unreasonably
- The parties have been separated for two years and it is agreed in writing that the partnership should be dissolved
- One partner has deserted the other for at least two years
- The parties have been separated for at least five years
These grounds are the same grounds as for divorce with one exception – adultery cannot be the basis for dissolution of a civil partnership.
What is unreasonable behaviour?
Unreasonable behaviour can either be a single serious event or a series of small incidents. Adultery, whilst not being a “fact” to justify dissolution itself, can be used as a reason for a Civil Partnership Dissolution on the basis that it amounts to unreasonable behaviour.
When can we can apply for a dissolution?
You must have been in your civil partnership for at least one year to be able to apply to dissolve your civil partnership. This is intended to allow sufficient time for the partnership to work.
Like divorce, the procedure of dissolving a civil partnership starts with an application to dissolution – the “petition” – setting out details of your civil partnership and the grounds on which you are saying that it has broken down.
The procedure is broadly similar – but the terminology is different. In particular the terms “Decree Nisi” and “Decree Absolute ” are replaced with “Conditional Fee” and “Final Order ”. It is only when that Final Order is made, your civil partnership is dissolved.
Click here to read more about the procedure for divorce
Our approach to relationship breakdown
Our team strongly recommend that your dissolution is dealt with in as friendly fashion as possible. As a result, depending on your particular wishes, we often recommend starting the procedure by writing to your partner and tell them you plan to apply for dissolution – often, at this stage, we try to agree the grounds for dissolution – to take the heat out of the situation and to reduce levels of disagreement.
We are big fans of both the collaborative law and family mediation process. These alternatives to traditional court proceedings aim to achieve an out of court friendly settlement between both parties facing civil partnership dissolution.
For the right people, these two methods of what is known as alternative dispute resolution works really well – speeding the legal process up, keeping costs down and most importantly of all, significantly reducing levels of upset and bitterness that are often the result of legal proceedings when a gay or straight relationship breaks down.
Of these two alternatives, mediation is broadly less formal than collaborative law. It still however requires the cooperation of both parties and a willingness to negotiate.
Mediators are professionals, trained in all the skills needed to execute effective mediation. Few local family lawyers are qualified as lawyer/mediators and will, as a result, often have to refer your case to an external mediator. Some law firms, like ours, however do employ dual qualified lawyer/mediators
Mediation has many benefits for civil partnership disputes. Primarily it can help prevent an expensive court battle over a financial settlement post-dissolution. Secondly, it can remove much of the emotional stress involved in pushing a dissolution through court – where there is a significant higher level of conflict and formality. Mediation often allows couples to find solutions that suit them both and they leave feeling satisfied rather than hurt and aggrieved by a court process.
We have a specially trained collaborative lawyer and 2 jointly trained family lawyer/mediators.
Click here to find out more about family mediation could help you.
Civil Partnerships and financial settlements
The financial settlement reached when a civil partnership is dissolved depends on the circumstances of the parties involved and most importantly whether or not they have children. In the absence of an agreement between the civil partners, in determining differential settlement the court will consider the following:
• Each partners personal assets (including property and pensions) and income
• Each partners financial obligations
• The length of the civil partnership itself
•The standard of living enjoyed by both partners during the civil partnership
• Any disadvantage caused to one party by the ending of the partnership
• Significant contributions to the upkeep of the family home
The court will also consider any pre-partnership agreement (equivalent to a prenuptial agreement). The courts main aim is to award a fair settlement between both parties.
In reaching a financial settlement, the court has a variety of orders they can make – as in divorce. These include lump-sum payments, maintenance orders, property adjustment orders and pension splitting, offsetting and earmarking.
Click here to read more about divorce and financial issues
What is the procedure for dealing with financial issues?
Again, in broad terms, the legal process for dealing with a financial settlement arising out of a civil partnership dissolution is the same as in divorce.
The simplest, cheapest and quickest way to resolve financial issues is to come to an amicable agreement with your civil partner – if you do, that agreement, can be formalised in what is known as a Consent Order – a legally binding agreement approved by the court. You will need a specialist Civil Partnership Solicitor to draft the consent order of the court approval – we strongly recommend that you involve a solicitor in a negotiation – so you really know the long-term repercussions of what you want to agree to.
However, if you and your partner are unable to come to an agreement with the help of specialist solicitors, you will need to take the matter to court for a decision to be made about how to divide your assets.
What will happen to our children?
The same law and procedure applies in any case involving children, whether it is arises out of divorce, the end of a civil partnership or other relationship.
Click here to read more about children law
We are a few months into our Civil Partnership and we want to separate – what can we do?
If your partnership has not yet been registered for a full year, you cannot apply for a dissolution order. However, during this period, you and your partner can apply for a Civil Partnership Separation Order. This order acknowledges that you are legally separated but you will not be able to apply for registration of another civil partnership until a full dissolution order has been granted.
The courts will not, however, automatically grant a separation order – you will still need to establish to the courts satisfaction that your relationship has irretrievably broken down along with one of the “facts” needed for a dissolution order.
Separation orders are broadly similar to “Judicial Separation Orders” in divorce – they also provide an alternative to civil partnership dissolution, if you want to formalise your separation without actually dissolving your civil partnership.
Please note that a court will not grant a separation order if children are involved unless it is satisfied with the care arrangements.
Like married couples entering a prenuptial agreement, civil partners can enter into a pre-partnership agreement.
A pre-partnership agreement is a written contract agreed by both parties prior to a civil partnership. The contract sets out exactly how any personal and joint assets will be divided in the event of a dissolution.
A pre-partnership agreement, just like a prenuptial agreements, is not yet a legally enforceable contract – as it is in many countries. As a result courts in England and Wales, don’t have to follow the pre-partnership agreement. However recent cases have shown that a similar can shift towards courts taking prenuptial agreements increasingly into account and pre-partnership agreements are likely to follow suit.
When making a pre-partnership agreement it is advisable for both parties to seek independent legal advice, preferably from an experienced civil partnership solicitor, to ensure both that they are being treated fairly and to maximise the chance of the agreement being taken into account by any future court in dividing a couple’s assets.
Do I need a solicitor to draft my pre partnership agreement?
As a pre partnership agreement is not a legally binding contract, DIY options are available. However this can be a dangerous choice to make – many DIY prenuptial agreements have been completely disregarded and as a result on occasion, one party has been forced to give over 50% of their personal assets plus a proportion of their future income to the other party. In light of this, it is sensible to instruct an experienced civil partnership solicitor to draft your agreement for you – to help ensure its validity at court.
As with married couples, for those preferring to avoid a formal dissolution, there is the possibility of annulling a civil partnership – in a similar way to nullity proceedings for married couples.