Divorce Vs. Dissolution | The
Financial, Legal, and Familial Impacts

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IN THIS BLOG

Familial Impacts

Going through a divorce or dissolution can be a very upsetting and often lengthy process. Married couples who want to end their marriage will go through a divorce and civil partners who wish to end their civil partnership will go through dissolution. Civil partners can be same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. Sometimes there is confusion surrounding the difference between the two processes, but under UK law, civil partners and married couples have the same legal rights. In this article, we’ll explain the financial, legal, and familial processes involved with divorce and dissolution. 

Are Civil Partners Treated the Same as Married Couples? 

Both marriages and civil partnerships are legal unions and so both have the same legal rights under UK law. Even the process to end the relationship is the same for civil partners as it is for married couples, although this is referred to as “dissolution” for civil partnerships and “divorce” for married partnerships. 

How Is Dissolution Different From Divorce?

Although the two have different names, dissolution and divorce involve the same steps. For both, you will need to have been in a marriage or civil partnership for at least 1 year before you can apply to end it.  

What Is The Process For Divorce and Dissolution? 

Whether you’re ending a civil partnership or a marriage, you first need to decide whether you want to make an application together if you both agree, or a sole application if your partner does not agree to legally ending the relationship or is unwilling to cooperate. 

The first step is to complete and send the application form which is the same (D8) form for both situations. After 20 weeks of submitting your D8 form, you will be asked to apply for a conditional order which is a legal document that says that the court sees no problem with your civil partnership or marriage ending. The reason for this waiting period is to give couples time to reflect on their decision to make sure that it is right for them. 

Once you get the conditional order, you will have to wait a further 6 weeks before applying for the final order which officially and legally ends your civil partnership or marriage. It’s important that you apply for the final order within 12 weeks of getting the conditional order, otherwise, you will have to explain to the court why there is a delay in processing this. 

How Long Does It Take To Finalise a Divorce and Dissolution?

The total time it will take to get a divorce or dissolution is around 6 months. 

What Are The Grounds for Divorce and Dissolution?

In the past, you used to have to show that there was a reason why you and your partner were getting divorced or dissolving your civil partnership such as desertion or unreasonable behaviour. These were called the “grounds”. Now (since April 2022) with the new “no-fault divorce”, you just need to confirm that your relationship has irretrievably broken down. In other words, you have permanently broken up and see no way of going back. 

How Do Financial Arrangements Differ Between Marriages and Civil Partnerships? 

When you divorce or go through a dissolution, you will have to decide how you want your assets to be divided between you and your ex-partner. This can include your pension, any property, savings, or investments that you may own jointly or separately. The process of dividing your financial affairs is the same for divorce and dissolution.  

What Happens if We Can Agree on Financial Arrangements?

You can avoid going through lengthy court processes and costly proceedings if you are able to agree amongst yourselves about how your assets should be divided. Perhaps you decide to split your finances 50/50 or one person decides to buy the other person out of your home. If you can come to an agreement that suits you both, then you should apply for a consent order. 

A consent order is a document that makes the agreement legally binding so that neither person can go back and make a claim against the other’s finances. The consent order confirms that both parties agree with the way that their finances will be divided. You’ll need to wait until you have your conditional order before your consent order is accepted. 

To apply for the consent order, you’ll need to draft and sign the order and complete a statement of information form and a notice of an application for a financial order. All must be signed and sent to the court along with a payment of £53. The court will process this but you won’t have to attend a hearing. The judge will approve your consent order providing it seems fair for both parties. 

What Happens if We Can’t Agree on Financial Arrangements?

If you can’t agree on how to separate your finances perhaps because your assets are complex or your finances are completely intertwined and it would be difficult to split them, or maybe one of you feels they are entitled to receive more, you may need to seek help. For instance, you could go to family mediation or arbitration sessions. As a last resort, you may need to get assistance from the court. 

Before applying to the court, you must show that you have tried to resolve your financial matters between yourselves by attending mediation sessions (unless there has been domestic abuse).  After this, you’ll need to apply to the court for a financial order (also known as financial relief) which gives a judge the authority to go through your assets and work out how they should be separated between you and your ex-partner. 

The first step in this process is to complete the financial statement for a financial order form which asks you to disclose all of your financial affairs including any assets, debts, and future predicted living costs. In this form, you’ll have to provide details of everything you own of value including your car, your pension, proof of your salary (a P60 form), and even any loans you have. It is vital that both parties disclose all of their assets on this form, otherwise, your partner could come back and claim against your assets. Once the form is submitted, it will take around 12-14 weeks before you are able to attend your first hearing.

After this, the court will arrange the first hearing whereby you’ll discuss all of your finances in more detail with the judge and see if there are any ways of settling any disputes. No decisions are made by the judge but it will encourage you to come to your own conclusions. 

Most cases can be settled at this stage because it is a chance for you to get an idea of different settlement options and professional guidance on the likely outcome of your situation. If you can come to an agreement at this stage, then the judge will review the details and decide whether it is fair for both parties. If so, a consent order will be drafted to make the agreement legally binding. 

If at this point you still cannot agree on how your finances should be split, the next step is to go to a financial dispute resolution (FDR) appointment. This will be a further opportunity to help you come to an agreement before reaching the final hearing. 

The final hearing involves the judge deciding on the fairest way of dividing your finances. They will consider many factors such as the length of the marriage or civil partnership, your age, ability to earn, living expenses, and your financial needs. The most desired objective is to find a way of creating a “clean break” so that you no longer have any financial ties with the other person. In some cases, this may not be possible if the judge finds that spousal or child maintenance should be arranged. 

Can You Freeze Accounts During a Divorce or Dissolution?

In some cases, people try to hide their assets so that they are not considered during the divorce or dissolution process. This might happen when one party thinks that the other should not be entitled to their finances or where one party has no idea about the extent of assets the other holds. They may try to hide assets or dispose of them so that their partner doesn’t get a cut. In this case, you can apply for a freezing order to stop the other from liquidating or moving their assets around to hide them from you. 

For the court to approve the order, they must be satisfied that the assets are going to be disposed of or hidden so that the other person cannot benefit from them financially which would be completely unfair in the circumstances. Freezing orders are usually put in place for the duration of the court proceedings to give everyone time to work out how the finances should be fairly arranged. 

Spousal Maintenance

In some cases, where one person relies on the other, or where one person is unable to support themselves, the court may order the person who earns a higher salary to make maintenance payments to the other. This is called a maintenance order. Depending on the situation, the court may grant spousal maintenance for a short-term period or for the long term. Although the name “spouse” is often used when referring to a married couple, spousal maintenance also applies to civil partnerships. 

When calculating the maintenance payments, the court will look at things like the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown, the age of each party,  the duration of the marriage or civil partnership, and the contributions each person has made to the relationship such as caring for the home or children. 

Why Is Parental Responsibility Important in Divorce and Dissolution?

Anyone with parental responsibility is able to make decisions about child arrangements after a divorce or dissolution. This includes deciding where the child will live, how much contact they will have with each parent, and other custody arrangements. People without parental responsibility are unable to make these types of choices and their consent will not be necessary when such decisions are made. 

Parental responsibility is the legal right and duty that a parent has for their child. Not everyone has parental responsibility and therefore not everyone can make important decisions about a child such as their upbringing, their education, health and welfare. A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth, but a father may not unless he is married to the mother at birth or named on the birth certificate. Depending on the relationship with the child such as whether they are adopted or were conceived through artificial insemination or surrogacy, the rules surrounding parental responsibility are different. 

Parental Responsibility in Ending a Marriage

Adoption 

Married couples who have adopted children will gain parental responsibility and they will continue to have parental responsibility once they divorce. If you adopted the child before getting married, then providing you applied for an adoption order together, you’ll both have parental responsibility. If one of you adopted the child alone or with someone else, the other spouse won’t have parental responsibility unless they applied for it. 

Artificial Insemination

A man will be the legal parent of a child born through artificial insemination provided he is married to the mother at the time of insemination. 

Surrogacy 

The surrogate will be the legal parent at birth, along with their civil partner or married partner. If you want to become the legal parent of the child you can apply to do so but either you or your married partner must be genetically related to the child (the egg or sperm donor). You will need to apply for parental responsibility within 6 months of the child’s birth and the child will need to be living with you in the UK. If neither of you is related to the child, you’ll need to apply to adopt the child to gain parental responsibility.

Parental Responsibility in Ending a Civil Partnership

Adoption

Same-sex civil partners will both have parental responsibility if they adopt a child providing they were in a civil partnership at the time of adoption. If you adopted the child together before entering into a civil partnership, then providing you both applied for the adoption order that transferred parental responsibility to you both, then you will still have parental responsibility after dissolution. If one of you adopted the child, they will have parental responsibility and the other may not if they didn’t apply for parental responsibility. 

Artificial Insemination

Same-sex couples in a civil partnership will both have parental responsibility providing they were civil partners at the time of the treatment such as donor insemination or fertility treatment. The other civil partner will be the legal father if they are male or will be considered “a second parent” if they are female. However, if artificial insemination happened before 6th April 2009, then the civil partner who is not the birth mother does not have an automatic right to parental responsibility and must apply for this.

Surrogacy 

Civil partners don’t automatically get parental responsibility with surrogacy and must either apply for parental responsibility or to adopt the child. The surrogate automatically has a right to parental responsibility as well as their partner if they are married or in a civil partnership. You can apply for parental responsibility if you are in a civil partnership, you or your civil partner is related to the child as the egg or sperm donor and the child is living with you. You must apply within 6 months of the child’s birth.