The breakdown of a relationship is almost always a distressing and difficult time for both parties, whether you are married or co-habiting or in a civil partnership.
Regardless of the type of relationship you are in with your partner there will be various things that you will need to sort out. These may include money, housing and arrangements for your children.
If you are married
You and your spouse may decide to
- Separate informally without going to court
- Draw up a separation agreement
- Get a divorce, a judicial separation order or an annulment
If you and your spouse agree you may be able to come to an understanding regarding housing, money and any arrangements for children between yourselves without going to court.
It is important to note that any agreement reached may affect later decisions made by a judge if you do ever go to court. A court may change any agreement reached if it views it to be unreasonable or, in respect of a child, not in that child’s best interests.
A separation agreement is a written document which sets out what you and your spouse have agreed in respect of the breakdown of your marriage. Things that may be included in such a document are arrangements about housing, finances, children and maintenance. It is advisable to seek independent advice from a solicitor before entering into a separation agreement.
If you or your spouse decides to formally end your marriage, you must apply to your local County Court to issue divorce proceedings in the form of a document known as a Petition.
In order to divorce in England and Wales, your marriage must be recognised as valid, you must be able to satisfy rules relating to residence in the UK and you must have been married for one year.
In order to obtain a divorce, you will need to file with the court a Divorce Petition which states that the marriage has irretrievably (permanently) broken down. You also need to show one of the following:-
- That your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with him or her;
- That your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her;
- That your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before you issue proceedings;
- You have lived separate and apart from your spouse for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the issuing of proceedings and that your spouse consents to the divorce proceedings going ahead
- That you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the issuing of proceedings.
If both parties agree to a divorce, the divorce will be undefended and will be dealt with on paper and you should not need to attend court unless financial matters are in dispute.
If one party to the divorce does not agree, he or she may defend the divorce. If one party intends to defend the divorce, he or she will have to write to the court to inform them as to why in a document known as an Answer. The party who does not agree to the divorce going ahead will have to state why they do not agree that the marriage has broken down. This may involve one or more court hearings. This is unusual. Most divorces are undefended.
If both parties agree to the divorce, the court will issue a Decree known as a Decree Nisi. There is then a period of time in which further evidence can be filed with (sent to) the court to show why the divorce should not go ahead. If the court receives no further evidence within six weeks and one day the court will then make a further Decree known as the Decree Absolute. It is only when the Decree Absolute is made that the parties are divorced.
A Judicial separation Order is an order which can be obtained from your local county court which means that you and your spouse are legally separated. It is not common however can be used by people who object to getting a divorce on religious or moral grounds.
For a marriage to be legal, it must meet certain legal conditions. When the marriage is registered, you and your spouse must both be over 16 and you must not already be married to another person. Following the marriage ceremony the marriage must be consummated. If your marriage does not meet one of these conditions, the court can end the marriage by granting an Annulment. When the County Court grants and Annulment, it may state one of the following:-
- That your civil partnership is void, that means in effect that the marriage never legally existed;
- Voidable. This means that the marriage was legal at the time it was entered into but it is no longer legal
If you are in a civil partnership
A civil partnership is legally registered relationship between two people of the same sex.
If you are in a civil partnership and your relationship breaks down, to formally end your relationship you will need to get permission from your local County Court. There are different orders the court can grant. These are a Dissolution Order; a Separation Order or an Annulment.
Your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year before you can apply for a Dissolution Order. You must prove to the court that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down, i.e. the relationship has broken down permanently. You must be able to then prove one of the following facts:-
- Your partner has behaved unreasonably;
- You and your partner have lived apart for two years and you both agree to the Dissolution;
- You and your partner have lived apart for at least five years if only one of you agrees to the Dissolution;
- That your partner has deserted you at least two years ago
If you wish to separate from your civil partner but do not wish to dissolve the civil partnership or it has been less than one year since it was registered, you can apply to the court for a Separation Order. Again, you have to be able to prove one of the facts as listed above. The Separation Order however does not leave you free to register another civil partnership or to marry.
For a civil partnership to be legal, it must meet certain legal conditions. When the civil partnership is registered, you and your partner must both be over 16 and you must not already be a civil partner or a spouse or another person. If your civil partnership does not meet one of these conditions, the court can end the partnership by granting an Annulment. When the County Court grants and Annulment, it may state one of the following:-
- That your civil partnership is void, that means in effect that the civil partnership never legally existed;
- Voidable. This means that the civil partnership was legal at the time it was entered into but it is no longer legal.
If you are cohabiting (but are not married or in a civil partnership)
If you and your partner’s relationship breaks down you do not need to take any legal action to end your relationship.
You may decide to:
- End relationship informally
- Enter into a separation agreement