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Guide to Divorce and Dissolution of a Civil Partnership

In this guide we will provide information on the legal process and requirements for divorce and ending a civil partnership, along with advice on important things to consider and the associated cost implications.

Ending a marriage/civil partnership

Divorce/dissolution can be one of the most stressful and emotionally challenging events in your life, and it is therefore crucial to obtain sound legal advice from a family lawyer to guide you through the potential difficulties of the process.

When your relationship comes to an end, there will often be a number of issues to address, including childcare, housing, pensions, and the division of possessions.

Separation v Divorce

Deciding between a legal separation or divorce/dissolution proceedings is a personal choice that depends on the circumstances and values of the family.

Getting divorced/dissolving the civil partnership legally brings your marriage/civil partnership to an end, so that you are no longer husband and wife/civil partners.

If you are not yet prepared to initiate the process of divorce/dissolution, there is an alternative option called judicial separation. This allows you to remain legally married/civil partners but live separately, whilst also addressing financial matters. You will not however be able to obtain a pension sharing order. You can also prepare a separation agreement which sets out how joint assets and responsibilities will be divided

It is important to note that if you choose to separate without getting a divorce/dissolution, you will still have financial obligations towards each other and that is why, divorce/dissolution remains the most chosen method for formally separating.

Divorce/Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (DDSA 2020) marks a significant change in divorce/dissolution law, aiming to reduce conflict by introducing ‘no fault divorce’ (/dissolution). This legislation eliminates the need to assign blame when starting divorce/dissolution proceedings. In the past, divorce/dissolution in England and Wales required proving a “fact”, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Now, divorce/dissolution petitions simply state that the marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down, without the need for proof of fault or separation.

In addition, you can now only dispute a divorce/dissolution if you have a legal reason. For example, if you live abroad the courts in England and Wales might not be able to deal with your application, as the marriage/civil partnership must be recognised by UK law, and you have must have a permanent residence in England or Wales.

You may only apply for a divorce/dissolution if you have been married/civil partners for at least one year.

There are 3 main steps to getting a divorce/dissolution:

  • 1. Filing a divorce/dissolution application
  • 2. Apply for a conditional order – there is a minimum period of 20 weeks from filing the divorce application to applying for the conditional order
  • 3. Apply for a final order – this application can be made six weeks after the conditional order to legally end your marriage/civil partnership.

Application for divorce/dissolution

You must decide whether you want to make a joint application or whether you want to apply on your own.

Joint application

You can make a joint application if both of the following apply:

  • - You both agree that you should get a divorce/dissolution
  • - You're not at risk of domestic abuse

You will need to decide if you want to apply online or by post. Your partner needs to use the same application method.

You’ll both have to separately confirm that you want to continue with the divorce/dissolution application at each stage of the process.

If the other person stops responding, you’ll be able to continue with the application as a sole applicant.

Sole application

Make a sole application if either of the following apply:

  • - The other party does not agree you should get a divorce/end the civil partnership
  • - You do not think the other party will cooperate or respond to notifications from the court

You will need to confirm you want to continue with the divorce application at each stage of the process

To start divorce/dissolution proceedings, you can apply online using the gov.uk website. If you do not have access to the internet or do not feel confident using the online portal, you can apply by post by completing a Form D8, available on the gov.uk website with all the details of where to send it once completed.

If your husband or wife/civil partner lacks mental capacity, and is, in reference to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, deemed unable to take part in legal proceedings by a medical professional, you are able to file for divorce/dissolution, but you need to source a ‘litigation friend’ – for instance a family member or friend – to represent them. If there is nobody suitable, available or willing to act as a litigation friend, the Official Solicitor, whose role it is to intervene to protect the interests of those who cannot act for themselves, may agree to do this.

To file for a divorce/dissolution, you must include your full name, your partner’s name and address, marriage certificate (original or copy from a register office and with a certified translation if it's not in English), proof of any name changes since the marriage/civil partnership and the details of any children, no matter how old they are.

If you're unsure of your partner’s address, fill in the petition with their last known address and you can provide an email address and the court will send the papers online.

Applying for a divorce/dissolution incurs a fee of £593, and the payment method varies depending on your application method. It's important to note that once you receive the notice confirming that the divorce/dissolution application is issued, the fee will not be refunded. If you require assistance in paying the fee, there is a possibility of obtaining financial aid if you receive benefits or have a low income. You can apply for this assistance either online or by filling out a paper form, again obtainable from the gov.uk website.

Responding to a divorce/civil partnership application

The court will send you a copy of the divorce/dissolution application if your husband or wife has started divorce/dissolution proceedings against you, along with acknowledgement of service and notice of proceedings forms. You must respond within 14 days, or the other party may be permitted to continue with proceedings without your consent.

If both parties agree to the divorce/dissolution, no court hearing is required, and the court will grant a conditional order if they do not see any reason why the parties cannot divorce/end their civil partnership.

Should one partner not agree to the divorce/dissolution, they are required to complete court papers called an Answer, stating why they do not believe that the marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. In rare cases, there may be a court hearing to establish whether a marriage/civil partnership has broken down, but, ordinarily, a defended divorce/dissolution is resolved before reaching court.

If your partner does not finalise the divorce/dissolution

If the person who started the divorce/dissolution, does not apply for the Final Order, the legal document that ends the marriage/civil partnership, you can apply for this.

You can only do this if it’s been at least 3 months, 6 weeks and 1 day from when the conditional order was granted.

*If the Final Order is not applied for within 12 months, the reasons for the delay will need to be explained to the court.

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