Topological transitions of fluid lipid membranes are fundamental processes for cell life. For ex- ample, they are required for endo- and exocytosis or to enable neurotransmitters to cross the neural synapses. Inspired by the idea that fusion and fission proteins could have evolved in Nature in order to carry out a minimal work expenditure, we evaluate the minimal free energy pathway for the transition between two spherical large unilamellar vesicles and a dumbbell-shaped one. To address the problem, we propose and successfully use a Ginzburg-Landau type free energy, which allows us to uniquely describe without interruption the whole, full-scale topological change. We also compute the force fields needed to overcome the involved energy barriers. The obtained forces are in excellent agreement, in terms of intensity, scale, and spatial localization with experimental data on typical fission protein systems, whereas they suggest the presence of additional features in fusion proteins.