Under the law of England and Wales, a civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex which is formed when they register as civil partners in England or Wales. The courts also recognise certain registered overseas relationships that are equivalent to civil partnerships.
It is possible to dissolve (formally end) a civil partnership after one year if it has irretrievably broken down. Jurisdiction for the dissolution of civil partnerships is largely the same for marriages, it is reliant on either one or both parties being habitually resident or domiciled in England and Wales.
Domicile is a legal concept. It is not the same as residence or nationality. Put simply, it is the country a person has as his or her permanent home, although in practice it is far more complex. A person does not stop having their home in a country just because they are temporarily resident elsewhere – it comes down to an intention to permanently relocate. As such, it is possible for a person to be habitually resident in one country but to retain domicile in another.
There is also a residual basis of jurisdiction – a jurisdiction of last resort – for civil partners that are living abroad in a country that does not recognise civil partnerships if:
- either civil partner is domiciled in England and Wales on the date when dissolution proceedings began or
- the parties have registered their civil partnership in England and Wales and it is in the interests of justice to assume jurisdiction (similar provisions apply to couples of a same sex marriage). In practice, you are likely to satisfy the ‘interests of justice’ test if you are unable to obtain a dissolution of your civil partnership elsewhere.
Registration of a civil partnership in England and Wales does not necessarily have to physically take place here. It is possible for UK citizens to register as civil partners in British consulates or armed forces bases overseas where at least one of the parties is a UK national, and the couple would not be able to form a civil partnership under the laws of that country and where the host country agrees.
Civil partnerships that are notified to the British overseas consulate are deemed to have been registered in whichever part of the UK that is elected by the couple at the time. There is no requirement to have a particular connection to the UK jurisdiction which they elect. For example, a Scottish national is in a same sex relationship with a Vietnamese national. The couple are habitually resident in Vietnam, where civil partnerships are not currently recognised. The parties can register as civil partners with the British Consulate in Vietnam and they can elect that the jurisdiction of England and Wales will apply to their civil partnership.
If the parties’ relationship subsequently breaks down and they decide to dissolve their civil partnership, and if neither party are habitually resident or domiciled in the UK at the time, the UK jurisdiction which governs their dissolution is entirely determined by the election they made at the time of registering their civil partnership (in practice, these cases will be extremely rare). This will impact what financial provision is available to the parties following their separation – which varies throughout the different jurisdictions of the UK – particularly, in relation to maintenance. In such circumstances, care should be taken by such parties’ before making such election.
It is also worth noting that the courts of England and Wales will not have jurisdiction to make maintenance orders following the dissolution of a civil partnership where jurisdiction is based on the sole domicile of either party.
In summary, if you are living in a country that does not recognise civil partnerships you can have your civil partnership dissolved in England and Wales if either you or your partner is domiciled here at the time of the proceedings or if you have registered as civil partners in England and Wales either physically or by virtue of having registered in an overseas British consulate or armed force base and it is in the interests of justice.
If you are looking to formally end your civil partnership and would like to discuss your own situation with a specialist family lawyer, please contact us.
N/B This blog represents the current pre-Brexit position on jurisdiction for dissolution of civil partnerships. This area is subject to change post-Brexit.