The Difference Between Divorce and Dissolution

Under UK law, civil partnerships and marriages now have the same rights. However, while married couples can apply for a divorce to end their relationship, those in civil partnerships must apply for dissolution. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the differences and similarities between the two and how they have changed as a result of the No-Fault Divorce Law. 

What is the definition of divorce?

The definition of divorce is the legal ending of a marriage by a court or other competent body. This means you will no longer legally be joined to your partner. 

What is the definition of dissolution?

The definition of dissolution is the legal ending of a civil partnership by a court or other competent body. Again, this means in the eyes of the law you will no longer be joined to your partner. 

Why would a marriage be dissolved?

There are many reasons why a marriage may be dissolved, including:

  • A lack of commitment 
  • Infidelity 
  • Marrying too young
  • Lack of equality in the relationship 
  • Abuse 
  • You deem the marriage to be illegal

Thanks to the No-Fault Divorce law, which was introduced in April 2022, you no longer have to prove one of the “five grounds for divorce”. This means couples only need to prove that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”.

What is the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act UK?

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act UK 2020 (DDSA) is an act made by parliament to amend the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the need for fault-based reasons in proceedings for divorce, dissolution and separation from the 6th April 2022. 

The DDSA is the biggest reform of divorce laws the UK has seen, aiming to reduce the impact conflict and blame can have on families and children. In turn it set the precedent for the No-Fault Divorce Law which was implemented on the same date. 

The law on divorce, dissolution and separation was reformed by:

  • Removing the requirement to provide evidence of “conduct” or “separation” facts and instead replacing them with a simple requirement to provide a statement or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership. 
  • Allowing joint applications to be made for divorce, dissolution and separation
  • Introducing a new minimum overall time frame of 26 weeks (6 months)
  • Updating the language used for divorce to simplify and reduce confusion

What are the differences between divorce and dissolution?

Divorce and dissolution are terms that are often used interchangeably, and they essentially both mean that the legal relationship has “dissolved” or ended. However, they are both used for different purposes. 

Legally, a marriage can only be ended by a divorce or an annulment, whereas a civil partnership can only be ended by the process of dissolution. In both situations, you must have been together legally for at least one year before you can apply for a divorce or dissolution. 

Are the grounds for divorce and dissolution different?

No, the grounds for divorce and dissolution are the same due to the No-Fault Law. All you need to do is prove that the relationship between yourself and your partner has irretrievably broken down and have been legally together for at least one year. 

Previously, for divorce or dissolution, you will have had to prove one of the following grounds:

  • Adultery (divorce only)
  • Unreasonable behaviour 
  • Desertion 
  • Living apart for two years and both agree to a divorce
  • Living apart for five years

In a civil partnership, there was no such thing as adultery. This meant that if your partner cheated on you, then you would issue proceedings on the basis of unreasonable behaviour and not adultery.  These grounds have all gone now and you simply need to confirm that the relationship has irretrievably broken down.

Cost of a divorce vs dissolution

Court fees can vary depending where you are in the UK; however, for a divorce or dissolution in England and Wales, you can generally expect costs to be the same. 

There are some main costs that you will have to pay, but you may have external or other costs to pay too.

If you want a divorce or dissolution, the cost of application to the court is £593. If you want to be legally separated, but don’t want to end the marriage or civil partnership, such as for religious reasons, you can apply for a judicial separation which will cost £365. 

You will also need to consider the support of a Family Law Solicitor during a divorce or a dissolution, who will guide and advise you through the entire process.

How long a divorce takes vs dissolution

A divorce and a dissolution can take at least six months to complete, even if you believe your circumstances are fairly straightforward. 

It might take longer if you need to sort out issues with money, property and/ or children.

These matters will usually be dealt with separately outside of your divorce or dissolution. You can read more about the distribution of assets by reading our dedicated guide. 

Pros and cons of divorce vs dissolution

Whilst divorce and dissolution generally follow the same path and timescales thanks to reforms in the law, there are still pros and cons that you should be aware of. 

Pros of divorce and dissolution

When thinking about divorce and dissolution, there are many advantages that a wide variety of couples can benefit from, including:

  • Removing the potential for unnecessary conflict. Since neither party can take blame for the end of the relationship, or defend it, there is less chance of disputes. Fault and blame are known to cause conflict and it can make all parts of a divorce or dissolution much harder. 
  • Couples can apply for a divorce or dissolution together. This makes the process much more harmonious, rather than one person needing to take the lead. 

Cons of divorce and dissolution

Whilst the No-Fault divorce laws are generally positive, there are some concerns that may still crop up for couples looking to separate. 

  • The process takes a minimum of 6 months. Before, it was possible to be legally separated in a shorter period of time than 6 months. However, the division of assets typically takes longer than this. 
  • Divorce and dissolution is too “easy” now. Some people feel like the divorce and dissolution process is too simple, making it much easier for couples to end their relationship. However, this is one of the reasons a 20 week waiting period has been implemented between the application and the issuing of the Conditional Order. 

Neither person has to take responsibility for the end of the relationship. Many individuals who are separating from their partner will want them to accept responsibility for the end of the marriage or partnership.

Our goal is to help our clients solve their family legal matters as smoothly as possible.

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