Last week Little Britain star Matt Lucas announced that his civil partnership is over after just 18 months.

Despite what you might have read in the tabloids, he will not be getting a divorce.

Civil partnerships are dissolved.

But what is the difference?

Since December 2005 it has been possible for same sex couples to register their partnership and so acquire rights and responsibilities that are almost the same as married couples.

Civil partnerships can only be dissolved by Court proceedings and the grounds are the same as in divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. In divorce this must be proven by citing one (or more) of the following facts:

Adultery
Unreasonable behaviour
2 years separation and consent to a divorce
2 years desertion
5 years separation

One or more of the above facts must be given to dissolve a civil partnership with the exception of adultery, which is a specific legal term relating to heterosexual sex and which cannot be used as grounds for dissolving a civil partnership.

If one of the partners is unfaithful the grounds for dissolution may therefore be unreasonable behaviour.

Separating civil partners have the same financial legal remedies as divorcing couples.

If you’re in a civil partnership you have rights to claim maintenance, lump sum payments, property transfer and pension sharing/attachment orders.

You can acquire parental responsibility of your civil partner’s child by agreement or Court order thereby conferring all the rights and responsibilities that divorcing parents retain in relation to children.

It is possible for separating civil partners to also apply for residence or contact orders.

In general civil partners are treated as married people for the purpose of entitlement to welfare benefits.

Any will is automatically revoked on registration of a civil partnership just as it is on marriage.

If no will has been made civil partners automatically inherit under the intestacy rules.

If a will or the intestacy rules do not make reasonable financial provision then a civil partner can bring a claim against the deceased’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Just as between spouses, transfers between civil partners are exempt from Inheritance Tax.

It is possible to enter into a civil partnership agreement that is the equivalent of an engagement.

This enables you to make a claim if the relationship breaks down.

The application must be brought within 3 years of termination of the agreement.

The last few years has seen the rise of the pre-marital agreement.

You can enter into a pre-civil partnership agreement setting out what the partners would want to happen if the partnership breaks down.

The Court will take into account what the pre-civil partnership agreement provides when considering all the circumstances of the couple’s case.

Just as in divorce the legal, financial and emotional impact of the breakdown of a civil partnership can be considerable.

Expert individual legal advice is almost always recommended as every case is different.

All our family law solicitors are members of Resolution, thereby adopting a constructive approach aimed at reaching solutions and minimising conflict.

Judith Ball is a partner at Barlow Robbins LLP.