Expert advice to protect your interests if your same sex relationship breaks down

The end of a relationship is a difficult time, but it is important not to rush into decisions. The right legal advice can help protect your rights whether you have been living together, have a cohabitation agreement or are in a civil partnership or married. As one of the leading family and divorce law firms in the south of England, we can help you with informed, practical advice and the reassurance of many years’ experience in handling these delicate matters.

The law has now generally adapted to take account of same sex relationships, which means that if your relationship breaks down, many of the legal aspects about divorce and separation now apply to same sex relationships too. It depends on how formalised your relationship is , whether you are simply living together, have made a cohabitation agreement, are in a civil partnership or are married.

Whatever your arrangement, the end of a relationship can be a painful time. It may be difficult to think clearly, but it is important not to rush into decisions, only to regret them later. This is where professional assistance from an expert in same sex family law can help. By discussing your situation and discovering the outcome you want, experienced same sex family lawyers will be able to suggest the right course of action to protect your interests, particularly where jointly owned property or assets are concerned.

Our family law and expert same sex relationship lawyers have wide experience of helping couples through the ordeal of a relationship breakdown. We will provide pragmatic, reassuring and realistic advice that will help give you certainty at a difficult time. Here, we explain how your rights differ, depending on whether you are living together, have a cohabitation agreement, are in a civil partnership or married.

Ending a marriage for same sex couples

If your marriage is legally recognised in England and Wales (including same sex marriages) and your relationship breaks down, you might want to start divorce proceedings. Our experienced same sex divorce lawyers offer all of the legal advice and support you need to protect your interests and those of any children you may have together.

Same sex divorce in England does have many of the same requirements and processes as divorce in an opposite sex marriage, but there are some differences. Experienced same sex marriage lawyers can talk you through exactly what you need to know. See our separate divorce page for more information.

If living together/cohabitating

If you are living together and subsequently break up, the law does not provide a great deal of protection. This is why it may be a good idea, if yours is a long-term relationship, to enter into a cohabitation agreement (sometimes also known as a living together agreement).

Such an agreement can offer you and your partner confidence with the way in which property and other financial matters will be dealt with while living together and in the event that the relationship breaks down. A properly drafted cohabitation agreement can also offer civil remedies in relation to certain aspects if there is a dispute.

If you want to live together without making a cohabitation agreement or entering into a civil partnership, it may be appropriate sensible to have legally enforceable agreements covering property or major assets you have bought together. Then, if your relationship ends, you will each know where you stand in terms of the property and/or assets, and what your share will be.

We can explain how this works and draw up the legal documents for you. We can also advise on what happens to the money if you had a joint bank account.

If you have children, the situation is rather more complicated. Parental responsibility laws mean you must make decisions about your children’s living arrangements, health, education and welfare jointly. If you are the same sex partner of a child’s parent, you may have parental responsibility. This will affect your rights and responsibilities regarding contact with the child and providing financial support for them, if your relationship has ended.

Since this can become complex, we strongly recommend you talk to experienced same sex lawyers first, such as the team at Moore Barlow.

Ending civil partnerships for same sex couples

A civil partnership has very similar legal status to marriage, so if your relationship has broken down, you can dissolve a civil partnership in much the same way as married couples obtain a divorce. It is important to take advice from experienced same sex divorce lawyers if you are considering this route, to help protect your interests.

You will need to show the court that you have been in a civil partnership for longer than a year and prove to the court that your civil partnership has irretrievably broken down by virtue of either:

  • The other party’s behaviour
  • Two years’ separation with the other person’s consent
  • Five years’ separation without consent
  • Desertion for two years or more

Unlike opposite sex divorces, adultery is not a factor that can be relied upon in a same sex divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

Stages for dissolving a civil partnership

The petitioner (the person wanting to end the civil partnership) files a petition at court for the dissolution of the civil partnership. As well as preparing the petition, your lawyer will also prepare a Statement of Reconciliation. This confirms that you, as Petitioner, and your solicitor have discussed the possibility of reconciliation. The petition, statement and fee for the petition are all sent to the court.

The court will send a copy of the sealed petition, together with an Acknowledgement of Service, to the Respondent, who is the other person in the partnership. The Respondent completes the acknowledgement and returns it. If they accept the stated grounds for dissolution and do notintend to defend it, their role in this process comes to an end.

The petitioner then files a statement in support of the petition and asks the court to grant the first order within the dissolution process, which is a conditional order. After six weeks and a day, the petitioner can apply for a final order and the civil partnership is officially dissolved.

How long does it take to dissolve a civil partnership?

Depending on the court and availability of court time, the process can take around 18 to 24 weeks. Same sex family lawyers can assist with the process to help keep things moving forwards as smoothly as possible in your specific circumstances. It may be beneficial to use this period of time to consider the financial aspects of the relationship and seeking to reach an agreement in relation to that. If agreement is reached, a consent order can be lodged with the court within the dissolution proceedings.

What are the court fees for getting a dissolution of a civil partnership?

Currently, the court fee is £550 (please note, this is not the solicitor’s fee and is subject to change intermittently).

Can the courts deal with your dissolution; do they have jurisdiction?

The courts in England and Wales can deal with your dissolution if they have ‘jurisdiction’, which usually means as long as both parties are habitually resident in England and Wales.

You may need to prove you are habitually resident in England or Wales and have been for at least one year. There are various other aspects involved, but this is a specialised and complex area of law. If you are in any doubt, please seek our advice.

The next step

It is a good idea to contact us as early as possible if you are contemplating dissolving your partnership. In the very early stages, we may be able to point you in the direction of relationship counselling if you do not feel it is the right time to proceed with a formal separation at this stage. We can also offer a conciliatory approach through our mediation and collaborative services.

Where children and finances are concerned, it is important to have expert advice, to ensure that your rights are protected, and you are clear about your obligations.

How to protect your assets

In a similar way to divorce proceedings, it is also important to consider your joint and individual assets when ending a civil partnership. If you do not already have a pre-civil partnership agreement in place, which sets out the details of assets/belongings and what should happen to them if the relationship breaks down, then you may need expert legal advice on this.

Same sex parenting

Whether you are looking to get divorced or dissolve a civil partnership, dealing with issues concerning your children can be very difficult and highly emotional. Not only might discussions be needed over with whom the child or children live with, there are other considerations that parents need to take into account both at the time and into the future.

The kind of issues that often need to be looked at and agreed upon include:

  • Who the child or children live with and when they see the other parent (child arrangements)
  • Future decisions over education – where they go to school
  • Any changes to a child’s name
  • Decisions over medical treatment
  • Holidays and taking a child abroad
  • Which religion (if any) the child will be brought up in
  • Payment of support for the child/children.

These issues can often be complex to resolve and some may need revisiting in the future as circumstances change. Our same sex family lawyers can help with this process if a future dispute arises.

Why Moore Barlow?

We are recognised as one of the UK’s leading divorce and family law firms, with a strong reputation for representing our clients in civil dissolution cases and other aspects of same sex family law. Our experience and knowledge in the area of same sex divorce in the UK, together with clear explanations that keep you informed throughout the process, will hopefully make it seem less daunting and help you feel more optimistic for the future.

We have offices in Southampton, Woking, Richmond, Guildford, London and Lymington and our same sex marriage lawyers offer specialist support and advice to our clients nationwide.

Same-sex marriage FAQs

Yes, couples in a same-sex marriage can get divorced in much the same way as an opposite-sex couple.

A divorce can be granted on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by relying on one of the following facts:


• Your spouse has behaved unreasonably;
• You have lived separately for at least two years and you both agree to get a divorce;
• You have lived separately for at least five years;
• Your spouse has deserted you.

There is only one key difference, same-sex marriages cannot be annulled on the basis of non-consummation and cannot be divorced on the basis of adultery unlike opposite-sex marriages.

You can rely on the fact that your spouse has behaved unreasonably by having an affair in order to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Adultery cannot be relied upon to bring a same-sex marriage to an end but instead it can fall within what the court would consider to be unreasonable behaviour.

The first step can differ from couple to couple; some may wish to explore reconciliation while others may be ready to make a court application for divorce. It is always useful for both spouses to first take independent legal advice so they become familiar with the procedures involved and the paperwork that must be completed.

The finances can be dealt with before, during and even after the marriage has ended. It is usually better to deal with this aspect as soon as possible. In the course of divorce proceedings, an agreement over the finances can be negotiated and ratified by the court or, if necessary, the court can determine these issues.

Issues in relation to the children, such as who they live with and how much time they spend with each of you, can also be dealt with before, during and even after the marriage has ended. These issues are dealt with under separate court proceedings from the divorce but in the first instance, an agreement can be reached directly with the other party if possible.