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Unfortunately it is very common for relationships to breakdown. This insight provides guidance around ending a civil partnership by dissolution.

A breakdown of any relationship can be difficult. You need pragmatic, expert advice. Our experienced dissolution solicitors can give you the guidance you need if you choose to end your civil partnership.

We ensure that your case is dealt with sensitively and with respect for ongoing relationships. As members of Resolution, the family law association, we adhere to their Code of Conduct and take a non-confrontational approach where possible.

What to expect from our family solicitors

Our solicitors will work with you to understand your situation and the best way forward. We encourage clients to maintain a constructive dialogue, especially when children are involved. We will endeavour to resolve even complex cases sensitively and without court proceedings. If your case does require a court-based settlement, our experienced team of lawyers will support and prepare you for this. We provide:

  • Pragmatic but personal support
  • Sensitive and constructive dialogue
  • A focus on settlement

Requirements for starting dissolution proceedings

A couple must have been civil partners for at least one year before dissolution proceedings can be started.

You have the option to either make a sole application (made by one civil partner) or a joint application (together).

If it is a sole application, the person making the application is known as the applicant and the other is known as the respondent. If it is a joint application, both parties are known as the applicant.

Jurisdiction for dissolution

There are various requirements to establish jurisdiction, but if you or your partner are resident in England and Wales, it is very likely that you will be able to seek a dissolution there.

If either you or your partner are not resident or domiciled in England and Wales, the courts may not have jurisdiction. Either of you may be able to commence dissolution proceedings elsewhere. Whether this is the case and whether it is advisable depends on your specific circumstances. It is very important that you should take advice.

Dissolution of civil partnership in England and Wales

Grounds for dissolution

There is only one ground for the dissolution of the civil partnership, which is that it has irretrievably broken down.


The first step is for your application for dissolution to be issued at court. Your civil partnership certificate and a court fee are required.

The court serves the application on your civil partner, usually by email and post. In some circumstances, alternative arrangements can be made by the applicant. Your civil partner will be known as the respondent. They must return their acknowledgement of service to the court. An acknowledgement of service form must also be completed if there are joint applicants.

There are limited options to dispute proceedings, although it may be possible on jurisdictional grounds or if there is a dispute about validity, fraud or procedural irregularity.

Assuming the proceedings go ahead on an undefended basis, the applicant (if a sole application), both applicants in a joint application, or in some circumstances a sole applicant (if proceedings have been issued jointly), may then apply for the first stage of the dissolution, called a conditional order. The application can only be made a minimum of 20 weeks from the date the application is issued.

The court reviews the application and, if satisfied that the criteria are met, grants a certificate of entitlement to the conditional order and sets a date for pronouncement.

The conditional order is pronounced in open court and a copy sent to both parties. From this stage onwards, the court has the power to make financial orders if asked.

Six weeks and one day after the conditional order, the applicant (or joint applicants) may apply for the final order (previously called decree absolute). If they do not, the respondent may apply.

The final order is made and sent to both parties. The final order terminates a civil partnership. It does not sever financial links between the parties.

Online dissolution

It is possible to obtain a dissolution through an online service provided by the court service. In some circumstances, the court may require a paper application.

Disputed dissolution

There are now very limited opportunities to dispute a dissolution if you do not accept that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. To do so, an answer must be filed within a limited time frame from service of the application. It is important to note that, save for the pronouncement of conditional orders, undefended applications are private. By contrast, defended dissolutions are heard in public proceedings. There are also cost consequences of defending dissolution proceedings. The procedure requires specialist advice.

Effect of final order

A final order terminates your civil partnership. Once you have a final order you are free to enter into a new civil partnership.

It also affects inheritance under a will. You should review your will after a final order as some or all of its provisions may no longer be valid after dissolution.

A final order does not terminate your financial rights and responsibilities against or towards your former civil partner. Financial issues have to be considered and addressed separately in a court order in order to achieve finality. This can be done by consent, utilising a number of different dispute resolution options, or through the court.

It may be prudent to apply to the court to delay an application for final order until a financial settlement is resolved. Legal advice should be taken.


In certain very limited circumstances, it is possible to obtain a declaration that the civil partnership was void or voidable. This is a complex area of law and highly fact-specific. If you consider this may be relevant to your circumstances you will need to take specialist advice which we would be happy to assist with.

As with a disputed dissolution, this process is heard in open court.

Religious dissolutions

A legal dissolution does not fulfil the requirements of a religious dissolution which are specific to the religion in question and must be dealt with separately, additional to a legal dissolution. Equally, fulfilling the criteria to obtain a religious dissolution alone will not mean that the civil partnership is dissolved. Specialist advice may be necessary.

Judicial separation

If you do not wish to dissolve your civil partnership but do require a formal legal separation, you can apply for a judicial separation. The process and legal implications of a judicial separation are different from dissolution. Most significantly, your civil partnership is not terminated by a judicial separation.

Whether it is advisable to opt for judicial separation instead of a dissolution will depend on your particular circumstances upon which you will require advice.

Dissolution in Scotland

Scottish dissolution is governed by the Divorce (Scotland) Act 1976 and the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985.

There is a no fault-based system of dissolution in Scotland. That means that the reason for the dissolution, such as behaviour, has no bearing on the financial orders that will be granted. Instead, the courts only need to be satisfied that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the civil partnership such that there is no possibility of any reconciliation.

Simplified dissolution in Scotland

If there are no children under 16 and financial matters have already been resolved by agreement, an application can be made for a simplified dissolution. This requires an application form to be completed and lodged at court. There is a fee to be paid to the court. The other party needs to be notified.

Ordinary dissolution in Scotland

If there are still financial matters in dispute or issues in respect of children to be resolved a normal dissolution action is required.

The process of applying for a dissolution in Scotland is by way of an initial writ being lodged at court. Once a person has obtained a dissolution they have no right to ask for further financial orders except in very exceptional and rare circumstances. Accordingly, it is imperative that anyone raising or defending a dissolution ensures that they take advice beforehand to ensure they protect their right to any financial claim before the dissolution is granted.

High net worth dissolution

Dissolutions involving high net worth individuals have added complexity and need specialist handling. Our high net worth dissolution specialists are experts in this area.

If you'd like support on any aspects regarding the process of ending a civil partnership, please get in touch with our team.