This blog was written before a change in the law in April 2022 which makes the process of civil partnership dissolution easier (see No Fault Divorce for more details).
Civil partnership dissolution is in many ways no different to the process of divorce, however, there are still some nuances. The legal system has taken massive strides forwards in terms of equality when dealing with same-sex couples in the last few years. The changes ensure that all enjoy the same rights, something that is still not the case in many other countries.
Naturally, some same-sex couplings in England and Wales will not work out and individuals will be looking to part ways. So, what are the key things same sex couples need to consider when looking at ending their civil partnership?
The process is largely the same as for heterosexual couples. It’s a case of dissolving the legal union, sorting finances/assets and drawing a line under the partnership. Here are five things which couples in this situation need to bear in mind.
Adultery is not a ground for dissolution – This is a much talked about but less used ground for divorce in a heterosexual marriage but is defined by a married person having sex with a person of the opposite sex. While it is not unheard of, this is far less likely among same sex couples. A partner may have cheated, but if it is with a person of the same sex, it is not considered adultery or a reason for “divorce”. If it is with a person of the opposite sex, it is adultery – but that is not a ground for dissolution.
You need to have been in the civil partnership for a year at least – This is the same as traditional marriage. There is an expectation that couples will “give it a go” rather than bailing out at the first sign of trouble. Whether you are in a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, this remains the case. No legal split within 365 days.
Sorting the finances – Dissolving a civil partnership will legally end the union, but it will not sort out the “stuff” that goes round it. While children are generally less of a consideration – though it still is for many – finances are key. How are you going to split up bank accounts, property, pensions, debts etc. Try to decide on this between you, then get a family law solicitor to draw up the formal documents on the arrangement.
Get a Clean Break Order – Something that so many couples still do not do. This draws a line under the finances. It stops an ex coming back at a future point, possibly years down the line, and making a legitimate claim against your assets. You may inherit, you may win the lottery, you may launch into a successful business. An ex potentially has a claim on this if you do not have a Clean Break Order. Speak to your solicitor about this.
Who is going to start proceedings? – Just like a in divorce, there needs to be a petitioner and a respondent. Someone needs to start the legal proceedings and give a reason. Unreasonable behaviour is the most common (the other options are desertion, two years separation or five years separation) but even then, you need to give examples. This is a potential flashpoint in any split. If you can, agree with you partner who is going to do this, the reason for the dissolution and the examples of behaviour. This will make things go much more smoothly. Obviously, this is not always possible. If not, our advice is to be the petitioner if you can. You are then more in control of proceedings and it may even allow you to claim for costs if the proceedings drag on.
A partnership of any sort breaking up is never good but going into that process with your eyes open and armed with as much knowledge as possible will help make things move more smoothly – and potentially help you avoid nasty surprises.
Family law solicitor, Bournemouth