Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Separating In A Civil Partnership

Civil partnerships have become increasingly common over the years with many people entering into them. However, in the same way that opposite sex couples divorce, so too do people choose to go their separate ways in a civil partnership. It is still not very widely talked about so what does it actually involve?

Is English divorce law all that different to the law for dissolving civil partnerships or are there other things that need to be considered?

Marriage versus civil partnership

Up until very recently, marriage was not even an option for same sex couples. While they could have a commitment ceremony of sorts, same sex couples were not recognised as being married in the eyes of the law. However, a new law is in the process of being passed through to make marriage legal for same sex couples, but for the meantime, civil partnership remains the only option. If you want to enter into a civil partnership with someone, the rules state that you must be 16 or over, have permission from your parents or guardians if you’re under 18, not be closely related and be free to form a civil partnership in the first place. Being free includes things like not already be married to someone else, amongst other things.

A civil ceremony can have readings, music and songs in it but there must not be anything religious included in the ceremony. This includes any hymns or readings from the Bible. Two witnesses will also need to be present for the partnership to take place. The ceremony can be held at a registry office or any venue that has been approved by the local council, including stately homes and hotels but churches and other places of worship will not hold civil ceremonies. The rules for a marriage are considerably more relaxed in that couples can marry in religious venues and they can also have the religious element in their ceremonies. Once the new law for same sex marriage has been passed, same sex couples will be able to marry in the same way as opposite sex couples and the religious elements of the ceremony will also be included, along with the option to wed in a place of worship.


If you do want to end or dissolve your civil partnership, there are various steps you need to take. In the same was as getting a divorce, you need to follow certain rules and ensure you have done everything correctly to get your civil partnership dissolved. First of all, you must have been in the civil partnership for a minimum of one year before you can even make a request to apply for a dissolution.

You will then need to apply to the court for a dissolution petition and explain the reasons why you want to separate. After that has been completed you will then need to apply for a conditional order. There is a slightly different process depending on whether your partner agrees to the separation or not. If they do agree, you will then receive a document that states there are no reasons why you cannot legally separate. After that has come through, you can then apply for a final order which will legally end your partnership. Bear in mind that you will have to wait at least six weeks after receiving the conditional order to apply for the final order.

If your partner does not agree to end the civil partnership, you can still apply for a conditional order but you will have to go to a court hearing to discuss the case first. The judge will then make the final decision as to whether or not the conditional order will be granted.

Grounds for separation

You must state the reasons why you wish to separate and there are four options. These are unreasonable behaviour, desertion, living apart for over two years, and living apart for over five years. Unreasonable behaviour covers things like infidelity, verbal or physical abuse, irresponsibility with money and physical or mental cruelty.

To apply on the grounds of desertion, your partner must have left you without your agreement, without a good reason, to end the relationship or for more than two years in the past two and a half years. If you have lived apart for over two years, your partner must agree in writing to end the civil partnership. When you have been apart for over five years, you will normally be able to separate anyway, even if your partner does not agree to it.

Making agreements

If you and your partner are able to agree on everything, like how you’ll share custody of any children, division of any assets and the reasons for separating, there will not be a need to involve solicitors and you also won’t have to go to a court hearing. If your partner does not agree to the separation or you disagree on certain elements, you will then have to go to court for a hearing.

The needs of any children you have must be a priority and the court will expect you to have sorted this side of things out. You will need to fill out a form that details arrangements for the care of your children, any maintenance that will need to be paid and also what the contact arrangements are for the children and their parents. You should make copies of any forms that you fill in throughout the process and ensure you keep them in a safe place for the future.


Lauren Sutton

Crisp & Co Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to crisp and co directly.

Published on 22nd November 2013
(Last updated 14th July 2023)