Difference between divorce and dissolution

The final breaking up of a relationship is seldom a painless experience, however, often it is the best solution if the relationship has broken down irretrievably. There are two ways of ending a relationship legally. These are divorce and dissolution. Below we look at a few differences as well as answer some frequently asked questions about legally breaking a relationship.

The main difference

Both divorce and dissolution are ways to end a legally binding relationship; however the key difference between the two is that where divorce is for legally married couples, dissolution is usually for those in a civil partnership.

In order to apply for either of these, the marriage or civil partnership must have been in effect for at least a year.

What about same sex marriage?

The law permitting same sex marriage will come into force in 2014. Once it does, the same divorce laws will apply to same sex marriage as they do to opposite sex marriage. At the present, dissolution is the applicable law for ending a same sex civil partnership.

What are the grounds for divorce and dissolution?

In order to obtain either a divorce or dissolution you will need to show that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. However there are some differences:  

1. Adultery (divorce only)

Adultery is a ground for a divorce but not for a civil partnership; though see below for more information if your civil partner has been unfaithful.

Adultery means that your husband or wife has had a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex and as a result you feel that you can’t live with them. It is NOT a ground for divorce if you continued to live together for six months after discovering about the adultery. 

If your partner had a sexual relationship with somebody of the same sex then it is not considered to be adultery.

2. Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour applies to both divorce and dissolution. There are many ways in which a husband, wife or partner’s behaviour could be considered to be unreasonable, however the more common ones include:

  • Physical or emotional violence
  • Verbal abuse, threats and humiliation
  • Regularly getting drunk or taking drugs
  • Withholding money that is needed to pay household bills
  • Having sexual relations with somebody of the same sex

3. Desertion

If your husband or wife has left you then it is considered to be desertion if:

  • You didn’t agree to them leaving
  • There was no good reason for them doing so
  • If they left in order to end the relationship
  • They have stayed away for at least 24 months in the past 30 months
  • You have lived apart for longer than 2 years

4. You have lived apart for two years and you agree to a divorce

If both you and your husband or wife agrees to a divorce, you will need to have lived apart for at least two years to get one. You both must agree to this in writing.

5. You have lived apart for 5 years

Usually you can get a divorce if you have lived apart for five years or longer even if your wife or husband doesn’t agree to a divorce.

My civil partner has had a sexual relationship with another person. Is this a ground for dissolution?

In a civil partnership there is no such thing as adultery, so that fact that your partner has had a sexual relationship with another person is not in itself grounds for dissolution. However if this has resulted in an irretrievable breakdown of your relationship, then the fact that your partner has been unfaithful sexually counts as unreasonable behaviour.

All of the other grounds for unreasonable behaviour are exactly the same as divorce.

What happens if the marriage or civil partnership took place abroad?

Where marriages or civil partnerships took place and are registered abroad, divorce and annulment can still be granted by courts in England and Wales subject to residency and other regulations.  

Do I need a solicitor?

It is possible to apply for a divorce or dissolution without the help of a solicitor, but only in very rare circumstances is it advisable to do without a solicitor entirely. Divorce and dissolution don’t need to be acrimonious and costly; there are many different options available, for instance, mediation and collaborative law. 

We suggest you speak to one of our local QualitySolicitors with experience in family law who can help make the process as quick and simple as possible.

Not only will we answer your queries but will provide you with a continuous update and you don’t have to worry about hidden costs.

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