Info & Advice

What if my opposite sex civil partnership doesn’t work out?

Civil partnerships have been an option open to opposite sex couples since December 2019. That’s very recent, and it is no surprise to discover that they remain very much a minority choice: in 2021, the most recent year for which figures are available from the Office for National Statistics reports that just 6,131 opposite sex civil partnerships were formed, compared to the several hundred thousand opposite sex marriages formed ever year.


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A more modern union

So, what motivated those 3,000 couples to step outside the mainstream? Why did they opt for this very new alternative to marriage? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but typically, opposite sex civil partners are motivated by principle. They associate traditional marriage with religion and they see traditions like the bride being “given away” by her father to her new husband, as stuffy and sexist, suggesting she is not a person in her own right. Civil partnership enthusiasts want to break away from what they see as past-their-sell-by-date associations and create what they see as a more modern union on a more equal footing.

How do civil partnerships differ?

Civil partnerships were first devised in the early 2000s as a non-religious alternative to marriage for same sex couples. At the time, allowing gay people to marry was considered too radical by many people with conservative or religious views. Consequently, there are, in reality, very few meaningful differences between marriage and civil partnership. Both provide the same range of legal protections – for example, the right to inherit from your spouse if they pass away, as well as the right to claim pensions and adequate financial provisions.

There are differences, but only minor ones. Some of the terminology differs – the civil partnership equivalent of a divorce is ‘dissolution’, for example. Neutral language of this nature may not sound especially romantic but it is used to convey that civil partnerships are exactly what the name suggests: an entirely civil event, with no religious overtones. It follows, therefore, that civil partnerships cannot be formed in a religious institution like a church. Instead, the partners-to-be sign a document in a registry office. They are free to hold a ceremony afterwards for friends and family of course, but this will hold no legal weight.

And that is more or less it. Prior to the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act on April 6 2022, same sex couples in a civil partnership were unable cite adultery as a reason for divorce. Why? Because legally, adultery can only take place between a man and a woman. But as there is no longer need to cite reasons when applying to divorce, this restriction no longer applies.

Ending your civil partnership

Sadly, defying the conventions of old school marriage does not make your civil partnership any more likely to stay the course – and just as civil partnerships are marriages in all but name and venue, civil partnership dissolutions are divorces with only minor differences of terminology.

How to dissolve your civil partnership

Just as with marriage, you can only begin the process of ending your civil partnership once you have been together for a minimum of one year. Typically, the process takes around six months to complete. The very first step is to make an application in court. This can be done jointly with your soon-to-be-ex if you are on relatively good terms with them and there is no domestic violence in your relationship. If your partner stops co-operating, you can continue as a sole applicant, but you will need to demonstrate to the court that the dissolution should still go ahead. This is referred to as a ‘case management’ hearing.

Applications for a civil partnership dissolution can be made by post but most couples now opt for the online portal set up for this purpose.

Typically, couples begin the process of negotiating of the division of their assets, their money and property, at this point, as well as arrangements for any children, but this is a separate process that runs alongside the bureaucratic formalities of ending the partnership. It is quicker and cheaper to reach agreements directly with your partner on these matters, but you may not receive your full entitlements if you do not seek any legal advice.

There are three stages to a dissolution:

  • The initial application
  • A conditional order, available 20 weeks (five months) later.
  • A final order of dissolution, available six weeks later.

A conditional order indicates that the family court is not aware of any reason the dissolution cannot proceed to the final stage. In order to be issued with one, you will need to verify that the information given in your divorce application is true.

As the name suggests, your civil partnership will come to a formal end when a final order is issued. If you want to turn your financial and childcare agreements into a legally binding court order, you will need to do so before the final order is issued.

It is important to keep a copy of your final order secure as you will need to present it if you decide to enter another civil partnership at a later date.

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