Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK in 2014, civil partnerships remain popular, with the most recent Office for National Statistics figures showing a steady increase in the number of gay and lesbian couples choosing to put their relationship on a legal footing in this way.

As with marriages, however, some civil partnerships end in separation. But how do you go about dissolving your civil partnership and how does the procedure differ from divorce? Fiona Yellowlees, Partner in the Family department at WBW Solicitors in Newton Abbot explains.

Civil partners broadly have same rights as married couples. The procedure for dissolving a civil partnership is also similar to that of divorce, with the main difference being that adultery cannot be relied upon as one of the grounds.

Like would-be divorcees, if you want to dissolve your civil partnership you must obtain permission from a court. You can ask the court to grant a dissolution order if your civil partnership has lasted for at least a year; a separation order if it has lasted for less than a year; or an annulment if it was not legal.

Dissolution order

To successfully apply for a dissolution order, you must prove to the court that the civil partnership has ‘irretrievably’ broken down. You can rely on one of the following four ‘facts’ to illustrate this:

  • your partner has behaved unreasonably (this would include behaviour such as physical and mental cruelty to you or your children; verbal abuse; financial irresponsibility; drunkenness; and passing on certain sexually transmitted diseases);
  • you and your partner have lived apart for two years, and that you both agreed to the dissolution;
  • you and your partner have lived apart for at least five years, if only one of you agrees to the dissolution; or
  • your partner deserted you for at least two years.

If the court accepts your application, it will make a conditional order of dissolution; the dissolution can be made final six weeks and one day from the date of the conditional order.

Separation orders

If it has been less than a year since you registered your civil partnership, or you want to separate from your civil partner but do not want to currently dissolve the civil partnership, you can apply to court for a separation order. You need to prove one of the four facts outlined above to the court for your application to succeed.

If you later choose to apply for a dissolution order you can use the same evidence that you used to get the separation order – you do not have to prove the same things again.


If, for some reason, your civil partnership did not meet the conditions required to make it legal, you can seek an annulment. This could be, for example, if either of you were under the age of 16 when you registered the partnership or if you were already married or a civil partner to someone else. You have to apply for annulment within three years of the date of registration of the civil partnership.

If the court grants an annulment, it will declare that your civil partnership is either: void – that is, the civil partnership never existed; or voidable – meaning the civil partnership was legal at the time it was registered but it is not legal now. Whether the court says your civil partnership is void or voidable will depend on the circumstances.

Just like on divorce, it is highly recommended that you get expert legal advice before you seek to dissolve your civil partnership. A family lawyer will be able to guide you through the dissolution process, arrange mediation for you and your partner to sort out your issues before going to court if required, and help you sort out arrangements for your children, your financial affairs or any housing problems.

For further information, please contact Fiona Yellowlees in the Family Law Team on 01626 202415 or email WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Paignton, Torquay, Bovey Tracey, Exeter, Launceston, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.