How to End a Domestic Partnership

Three Methods:Determining the Process for Your JurisdictionTerminating Through Dissolution of Marriage ProcessesTerminating by Form

When a couple who entered into a domestic partnership or civil union wants to end that relationship, they cannot just walk away, especially if they have accumulated significant assets or debts that need to be divided or children for whom provisions for care must be made. Each location has its own laws, so even where the overall process is similar, there will be differences. This is a general discussion of the most common methods to terminate a domestic partnership or civil union.

Method 1
Determining the Process for Your Jurisdiction

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    Consider hiring an attorney. Family law is very detailed and far reaching. So many different things are likely to impact your case, and judges have great latitude for discretion. If you can afford a local attorney who knows the types of things your judge favors and disfavors, it would be best to hire one. See How to Find a Good Attorney. Even if you cannot afford a full-service attorney, some attorneys provide unbundled services, which means they will provide limited services to you, such as:
    • Preparing documents
    • Giving you legal advice
    • Teaching you the law as it applies to your case
    • Coaching you through the process.
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    Read the laws regarding domestic partnerships or civil unions in your state. The laws regarding domestic partnerships and civil unions are different in various locations. Because domestic partnerships and civil unions are not fairly uniformly handled, it is challenging to locate the statutes. Start with the state statutes and search for domestic partnerships or civil unions. If you find nothing, look at codes for your local county/parish and city, again searching for domestic partnerships or civil unions. If you find nothing in any set of statutes, contact the clerk of courts or the county recorder’s office.[1]
    • Some states do not provide for domestic partnerships or civil unions at all. In some of those states, individual counties or cities may have enacted domestic partnership or civil union laws for that location.
    • Some states forbid domestic partnerships or civil unions, and some states provide for domestic partnerships or civil unions that are consistent throughout the state.
    • Frequently, in a jurisdiction that forbids or is silent on domestic partnerships, there will also be no provision for terminating one. In that case, you may need to return to the jurisdiction in which you registered the relationship if you still qualify for the process.
    • In some jurisdictions, you only complete a form stating the domestic partnership or civil union is terminated, and any division in property or debts must be handled separately through contract or property laws.
    • In other jurisdictions, you must terminate your domestic partnership or civil union by filing a petition in family court, similar or identical to a divorce or dissolution of a marriage.
    • In other cases, there are no provisions for terminating domestic partnerships or civil unions, and division of property or debts must be handled separately through contract or property laws.
    • Custody of any children of the relationship will be decided by the family courts.
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    Divide your property and debts according to the appropriate laws. If your jurisdiction does not provide for a division or property and debts through the family courts, you will need to divide them yourselves. Even if you go through the family courts, courts are likely to endorse agreements between the parties rather than hold a trial.
    • Discuss the property and debt division between yourselves and attempt to come to an agreement. If you come to that agreement, simply follow it. One person buys the other partner’s interest out in certain properties, or a partner takes out their own loan to pay off a joint loan while simultaneously transferring ownership of the property to the partner paying for the property. Put this agreement in writing as a contract. See How to Write a Legal Contract
    • File suit in the appropriate court. If the two of you cannot agree on a property settlement, you may need to file an appropriate legal action with the courts, such as a partition of real property with multiple owners, breach of contract, or promissory estoppel.[2]

Method 2
Terminating Through Dissolution of Marriage Processes

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    Determine the terminology and thresholds. Read your state’s statutes as they pertain to domestic relations, division of property, and child custody. These statutes will tell you any preferences or presumptions the judge is required to make and what the terminology is in the state. Many state statutes spell out the factors for the best interest of the child, division of property, payment of support, and other issues.
    • Most states provide a link to statutes on the website of the highest court, the legislature, and/or the governor’s office.
    • You may also need to search in case law. Find your state’s highest court website, and look for a searchable database of court opinions.[3]
    • If your state does not provide a searchable database, you will need to locate and visit a local law library or use Google Scholar. Check with information personnel at your courthouse or your local self-help center to locate a law library.
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    Locate the appropriate court. To find which court you should file your case in, do the following:[4]
    • On the website of your state’s highest court, there should be a description of the state court system. Looking at that description, locate the family court or the court of general jurisdiction in your state.
    • Locate the court of the same name in your local county or parish.
    • You will want to file your action in the county in which the two of you live or the property is located.
    • If your partner lives in a different jurisdiction, you may want to consider filing in the county in which your partner lives to ensure the court has personal jurisdiction to require him or her to do certain things.
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    Locate and complete the appropriate forms. Most states provide pre-prepared forms for dissolution actions. These can usually be found on the website for your local court and/or your state’s highest court. You can also often get assistance finding and completing them at your local self-help center. Some states provide an interactive online program that creates your documents tailored to your particular circumstances.[5]
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    Prepare for filing. Once the appropriate forms have been completed, you will need to sign them. Any forms that have a notary block on them will need to be signed in front of a notary. Make the appropriate number (usually two) copies of all documents.
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    File your documents. Give the original set of documents to the clerk of the court that will hear your case. A filing fee will be charged unless you apply and qualify for a waiver. You can ask the clerk to stamp your copies with the filing date. The clerk will also need to sign your summons or citation, which s/he will return to you.
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    Serve your partner. Ask the clerk to sign your summons or citation when you file your documents. You need to make a copy of the signed summons or citation for your records. Then, attach the original summons or citation to the copy of the documents for the other parent. Your partner must receive these documents usually within 90 to 120 days of the date you file your case. Methods of service are different in each state, and acceptable methods can be found by reading your state’s civil procedural rules. They usually include some of the following. Note that they rarely include you delivering them:[6]
    • You can pay the sheriff’s office to serve them.
    • You can pay a private process server to serve them.
    • You can arrange for a friend or relative (not involved in the case and over 18) to serve them by a method listed in the civil procedural rules. Be aware this person will need to complete a Return or Proof of Service and may need to testify as to how they served the documents.
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    Wait for the answer. In most states, your partner has 21 or 30 days from the date s/he was served with the petition to file a written answer.[7]
    • You should receive a copy of the answer, but if you do not, call the clerk and ask if it has been received.
    • If no answer was filed, consider filing for a Default Judgment.
    • Keep in mind that not all issues may be able to be resolved by default, especially if your partner lives out of the court’s jurisdiction. For instance, where child custody is an issue, if the partner in default lived in a different state, but the child was in your state, the court could modify the times and dates that parent was allowed to spend time with the child or what decisions that parent was able to make on the child’s behalf, but may not be able to modify an order for child support from that out-of-state parent.
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    Participate in discovery. If you need to gather information or evidence to support your case in court, you will do this via discovery. Read the rules governing discovery usually found in the civil procedural rules to learn about discovery techniques and processes in your state. In general, you can require the other party or other potential witnesses to:[8]
    • Provide you with copies of documents
    • Allow you to inspect items or property
    • Require them to answer questions under oath (written or oral).
    • Undergo psychological/psychiatric testing or an evaluation by a professional to determine what type of arrangement would be in the best interest of the child and make a recommendation to the court. Contact your local family law self-help for assistance with some of these.
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    Make disclosures. Throughout the case, you will need to make certain disclosures to the other party, and you should request these same disclosures if they are not made voluntarily. If these things are not disclosed prior to trial and the other party objects to their use, you may not be able to present them at your hearing. These disclosures may include:
    • Financial affidavits
    • Lists of people expected to testify at trial and what they intend to testify about
    • exhibits you intent to present at trial, either as evidence or for demonstration purposes.
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    Read the Rules of Evidence for your state. Be sure you understand them. If you have any questions about them, it is worth paying an attorney for assistance or instruction. These rules will tell you things such as:[9]
    • The type of evidence that is admissible
    • How to get the evidence admitted
    • Types of witnesses
    • Different ways to question witnesses
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    Participate in mediation. Either party can request mediation or the judge can order it without a request from either party. In most states, a court can excuse a case from mediation if the court believes there is risk to either party or mediation will be pointless. In mediation, a neutral third party attempts to bring the parties to an agreement on the issues. There is no need to bring any evidence because the mediator does not make any decisions. The intent is for both parties to compromise a little bit so that the issues can be settled without the need for a trial.[10]
    • If mediation is successful, the mediator will generally prepare the proper documents, obtain the signature of each party, and submit the documents to the court.
    • If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties simply proceed to court.
    • In most states, statements made in mediation are cannot be used in court and the mediator makes no statements to the court other than whether mediation was successful. In other states, the mediator will make a recommendation to the court as to how the court should rule on the issues. Be sure you are aware of how mediation is treated in your state.
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    Schedule your hearing. Contact the clerk of the court to schedule your hearing. You should be able to estimate to him/her the length of time you anticipate. The clerk may schedule you for a scheduling conference or hearing, during which time, the judge will ask questions to be sure all issues are ready for trial and to determine how much time will be needed for the hearing.[11]
    • You will need to provide notice of the hearing to all other parties. You can do this by preparing a Notice of Hearing or by sending a letter to the other party
    • The Notice or letter should include all details of the hearing (date, time, location, length of time, judge).
    • Ask the clerk if your court provides a form for this.
    • Issue any subpoenas necessary for any witnesses.
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    Attend your hearing. On the day of your hearing, be sure you are dressed cleanly and respectfully. If you can wear a suit, do so. If not, clean clothes that would be suitable for the office are acceptable. If you can only wear jeans, be sure they are clean and in good repair. Do not wear shorts, flip flops, tank tops, miniskirts, or sagging pants. Arrive early. Speak only to the judge, not to the opposing party or their attorney. Address the judge with respect, calling him or her “Your Honor” or “Judge”. Stand when speaking. The case will likely proceed as follows, though this can vary under some circumstances:[12]
    • Opening statements of the petitioner (a roadmap of the case and what will be proven)
    • Opening statements of the respondent
    • Witnesses called by the petitioner and cross examined by the respondent.
    • Witnesses called by the respondent and cross examined by the petitioner.
    • Closing arguments by the petitioner (a summary of the trial and arguments as to why the judge should rule in the petitioner’s favor)
    • Closing arguments by the respondent
    • Rebuttal by the petitioner
    • Ruling by the judge
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    Prepare the order. After the judge’s ruling, the prevailing party is usually tasked with preparing any orders. If you submitted proposed orders earlier, the judge may use those. The judge may also have stacks of blank orders on the bench that s/he fills out and signs while making the ruling. If you are tasked with preparing the order:
    • Locate the appropriate order form from the link above and complete it
    • Make two copies
    • File the original with the court
    • Send a copy to the other party.
    • Keep the other copy for your records.
    • Once the judge signs the order, you can get a copy of the signed order from the clerk.
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    Consider appealing. If you disagree with the judge’s ruling, you have generally 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal with the trial court. Check your state’s rules of appellate procedure for these deadlines.[13]

Method 3
Terminating by Form

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    Locate the form. If your jurisdiction allows this, the form will be located with the office that issues forms to create or register a domestic partnership or civil union, often a clerk of courts or the county recorder.
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    Fill in the form. This form will likely be a sworn statement. You will likely:[14]
    • Swear you are terminating the partnership
    • Swear you have provided a copy of the form to your partner
    • Be required to attach documents that prove this notification
    • Be required to sign it in front of a notary.
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    File your form and pay fees. Your form will likely be filed at the same office in which you obtained the form. Most jurisdictions require you pay a filing fee at the time of terminating your domestic partnership or civil union.[15]

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Categories: Contracts and Legal Agreements