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Civil Partnerships & Same Sex Couples

20 July

Civil Partnerships & Same Sex Couples

Until the Civil Partnership Act 2004, same sex couples could not enjoy the same legal rights and status as heterosexual married couples.

This was a milestone for same sex couples which changed the legal landscape providing the possibility of legal rights which had previously been denied. The Act mirrors the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. 

Later on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force which gives same sex couples in England and Wales the right to marry. There is also a procedure whereby same sex civil partners can follow to convert their civil partnership into a same sex marriage. 

Since a registered Civil Partnership and Same Sex Marriage is in law the equivalent to a heterosexual marriage, it brings with it legal benefits relating to property, pension, children and inheritance, as well as other legal responsibilities. Similarly, the process to dissolve Civil Partnerships/Same sex marriages is essentially the same as for a divorce in England and Wales. It’s therefore important that you instruct a solicitor that has specialist knowledge in the breakdown of same-sex relationships to represent your interests. 

The process is mainly paper based and is dependent on whether you are the Petitioner (sometimes called the Applicant), the person starting and issuing the dissolution or the Respondent, the person who is responding to the dissolution, and uses the same forms as you would with a divorce. As with divorce it takes approximately 6 months to complete. 

Like with a marriage, a Civil Partnership cannot be dissolved for a period of 12 months following its creation. There is only one reason for the dissolution of a Civil Partnership which is irretrievable breakdown. Irretrievable breakdown is established proved using one of four facts of which one is available to you at this time. These are unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation of 2 years or more with consent (i.e. consent (agreement) from the Respondent), or separation of 5 years without the need to establish consent. 

One difference between the Civil Partnership Act and the Matrimonial Cause Act is that for a married couple who are divorcing they have an additional fact which is available to them which the fact of Adultery. Whilst this is not available when dissolving a Civil Partnership, infidelity can be used as part of unreasonable behaviour. 

The role of Petitioner or respondent is quite different even where a couple are agreed and amicably dissolving their Civil Partnership. 

Petitioner

  • In order to make an application for dissolution the Petitioner will need:

o   the original Civil Partnership certificate. This will be sent to the Court with the application and will not be returned. If the original certificate is not available a copy can be obtained from the Local Council for a nominal fee;

o   details of the fact on which irretrievable breakdown is based;

o   a Court fee of £550.00; and

o   if the Civil Partnership was formed abroad, a translation of the certificate may be required.

  • Once received the Court will send the application, now stamped by the Court, to the Respondent and they will have 14 days within which to acknowledge service of the papers. 
  • When a response is received or after 14 days with no response the petitioner can apply to the Court for a conditional order. Traditionally, in Matrimonial Courts, this is called the Decree Nisi.
  • At this stage, the Judge will consider the papers and decide whether the Petitioner is entitled to a dissolution on the basis stated.  Assuming that the Judge agrees, a date for conditional order will be fixed some three to four weeks ahead. 
  • Six weeks and one day after pronouncement of the conditional order the Petitioner can apply for the conditional order to be made final (Decree Absolute).  

Respondent

  • Once the Application has been filed with the Court, the Respondent is required to complete an Acknowledgement of Service within 14 days.
  • After this has been filed, the Petitioner can apply for a conditional order (Decree Nisi).
  • A Petitioner is able to make a Claim for Costs against the Respondent but this is solely in relation to the dissolution of the Civil Partnership not any financial or children matters which may arise. 

As with divorce, the most important thing is to get advice as soon as possible from a Solicitor who has specialist knowledge in relation to Civil Partnerships even if you do not want to make an application to the Court straight away. The procedure may be essentially straight forward but it needs to be navigated carefully and there are many issues which a Petitioner or a Respondent should consider at every stage. 

If you have any queries then please contact our family department on 0114 220 2186.