Can I divorce my civil partner? (Legal Q&A)

Civil Partnerships are legal confirmations of relationships involving persons of the same sex. Ending a civil partnership is in many ways similar to ending a marriage, in the sense that the status afforded to each category of legal relationship is similar. However, the process of ending a civil partnership is commonly referred to as dissolution, not divorce.

As with a divorce, this process is best handled by an experienced family law solicitor, as a civil partnership entails the provision of similar rights over property and finance as a marriage and can have similar bearing on the ongoing care of any dependent children.

To get a civil partnership dissolved you’ll need to prove to a court the reasons why your relationship is no longer working. Your solicitor will ask you to evidence these as ‘supporting facts’ towards your case. To formally dissolve a civil partnership you must have been together for at least one year. As with divorce proceedings, you will need to demonstrate that your relationship has irretrievably broken down.

The four supporting facts acceptable for the dissolution of a civil partnership are:

  • Unreasonable behaviour by your civil partner
  • Absence from your home for more than two years, known as desertion
  • Separation for at least two years and agreement to the dissolution
  • Separation for at least five years if you cannot agree to the dissolution

Unreasonable behaviour is the most common grounds for dissolution and includes any behaviour which means that you cannot be expected to live with your partner any longer, for example physical or mental cruelty, abuse, irresponsibility with money or sexual infidelity. You will need to give sufficient detail on this behaviour, so be ready to supply dates when these incidents occurred. If the behaviour cited is over six months old, the court might decide it is not proven. In these circumstances you should consult your solicitor for legal advice.

If none of the grounds above apply, or you have not been in your civil partnership for more than a year, then you can apply for a legal separation instead.

My Spouse and I are looking to separate, however we do not wish to go through with the whole divorce procedure just yet, is there another way we can separate without going through this?

In Divorce Law the term divorce means that a marriage has been irretrievably broken down. It may be that in your situation this is not the case and you are not looking for a final decision but rather an agreement not to carry out your marital obligations or to benefit from your marriage in any way until you make a decision whether to officially divorce or not.

If this is the case you should write a separation agreement. A separation agreement is not a divorce; it is merely an order of court which dissolves the obligations or benefits brought on by a marriage. In such cases you and your spouse will agree beforehand about any financial agreements, the children and the planned divorce. This agreement is binding on you and your spouse until the divorce commences during which time the courts will make an order confirming the terms of the separation agreement.

If you are seeking to carry out a separation agreement, it is advisable that both you and your spouse employ the services if a divorce lawyer or family solicitor before agreeing to any of the terms you intend to set out in the agreement. The separation agreement identifies the parties to the agreement and confirms that both you and your spouse have received legal advice on the matter. Both parties will then agree in the separation agreement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that they are planning their divorce.

It is prudent at this stage to get legal advice on your division of your matrimonial assets, such as your finances and child support. This will make it easier for you to carry out an uncontested divorce when you wish to go through with the procedure. It should be noted however that a court may change your separation agreement if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, if it is not in the child’s best interests.

For further legal advice on divorce and separation agreements, you are advised to speak to a divorce solicitor or family law solicitor. They can answer your questions and help you to get through this difficult time.

My spouse and I are looking to divorce but are worried about the costs involved in the process, is there any help we can get on this matter?

The result of a divorce or separation is that two households will often have to exist on the same amount of money as one did previously. This is unfortunately made worse by the costs that will flow from your divorce. There are three main ways in which you can reduce on your legal costs in this procedure.

The first method would be to attempt to carry out the divorce informally, known as informal separation. If you and your partner are married, you can separate by such an informal arrangement. If you and your partner agree, you can also make arrangements about children, money, housing and other property without going to court. However, any informal arrangement made when you separate may affect future decisions if you do ever go to court. You should be aware that a court may change an arrangement you and your spouse made if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, not in their best interests.

Another method that can be employed to reduce legal costs is through what is known as a separation agreement. This is a written agreement between you and your spouse when you intend to stop living together. It sets out how you wish to sort out financial arrangements, property, and arrangements for the children. It is advisable to consult a divorce solicitor when drawing up a separation agreement, but you should work out in advance the general areas you want to cover. This will help to reduce your legal costs.

A final method that may be used in such circumstances would be for you to utilize the services of Legal Help. Legal Help allows people with a low income to get free legal advice and help from a specialist divorce solicitor or an experienced legal adviser. The solicitor or adviser must have a contract with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to be able to provide Legal Help. You should be aware that in such cases the divorce solicitor will only be able to help you with legal advice and not with the drafting or endorsement of any legal documents.