A decree of dissolution formally ends a civil partnership. If a court is satisfied that the required conditions (see Rules below) are met, the court will grant the decree of dissolution, dissolving the civil partnership. When it grants the decree of dissolution, the court may also make orders in relation to the payment of maintenance and lump sums, the transfer of property, the extinguishment of succession rights, pension rights etc.
The fact that the parties must have been living separate lives (see Living apart below) for 2 years before an application for a dissolution is made, means that separating civil partners may decide to enter into a separation agreement to regulate matters between them before they seek a dissolution.
In any application for a decree of dissolution, the court can review any previous arrangements made by the parties such as a separation agreement, particularly if the circumstances of either party has changed.
When a decree of dissolution is granted, it cannot be reversed. Either party can apply to court to have any orders made under the decree - such as a maintenance order - reviewed by the court.
If both parties to a civil partnership wish to marry, they will also require a decree of dissolution to dissolve the civil partnership first.
Before a court can grant a dissolution, the following conditions must be met:
- The parties must have been living apart from one another for a period amounting to 2 out of the previous 3 years before the application is made
- Proper arrangements must have been made or will be made for the civil partners and any dependent child of the civil partners
The Family Law Act 2019 (pdf) provides a definition of ‘living apart’ to give certainty to the interpretation of the term in the Irish courts. It clarifies that civil partners who live in the same home as one another are considered to be living apart if the civil partners are not living together as a couple in an intimate and committed relationship. The Act also sets out that a relationship does not cease to be an intimate relationship merely because the relationship is no longer sexual in nature.
If these conditions are met, either party to a civil partnership may apply to court for a decree of dissolution.
How to apply
You are not legally required to use a solicitor or a barrister. In fact, if you wish, you can choose to represent yourself. However, there may be complex issues which may make it very difficult to apply for a dissolution without any professional help.
When applying for a dissolution you will be required to submit 3 documents to the Circuit Court:
- An application form (known as a family law civil bill). This document describes both you and your civil partner, your occupations and where you live. It also sets out when you registered your civil partnership, for how long you have been living apart and the names and birth dates of your children.
- A sworn statement of means (Form 51). This document sets out your assets, your income, your debts, your liabilities and your outgoings.
- A sworn statement relating to the welfare of any dependent children (Form 37B). This document sets out the personal details of the children. It describes where they live and with whom. It also describes their education and training, their health, childcare arrangements and maintenance and access arrangements.
There is no requirement to submit a document certifying that you have been advised of the alternatives to dissolution, as is required in divorce applications.
When all of the necessary documents have been filed, you will be given a date for the court hearing. The hearing will be held in private and you will need to show the court that you meet the requirements of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. If the court is satisfied that you have grounds for a dissolution, it will grant a decree of dissolution.
Legal advice and representation is always advisable. If you and your civil partner disagree about any issue at all it is strongly advised that you go to see a family law solicitor. You and your civil partner should not use the same solicitor.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area. FLAC also runs an information and referral line during office hours for basic legal information.
If you choose to hire a private solicitor, you should be aware that there is no fixed rate of charges for legal fees. You are advised to obtain some quotes before deciding on a legal firm. You can find contact details for solicitors and firms throughout Ireland on lawsociety.ie.