Divorce can be a difficult process, fraught with emotion and beset with legal hurdles, but there’s no need for it to be long and drawn out. Not all marriages end acrimoniously, and for those that do, there is an established legal process that can iron out disputes and keep communications civil between the parties.
The divorce process in short
If you have been married for more than 12 months and your relationship has broken down beyond repair, you can file a divorce petition. This is an application to the court for legal permission to divorce, and will contain the reasons why the marriage is ending.
Provided that your spouse has no objections to the petition, a decree nisi will be issued, which is a document that says there is no reason why you can’t have a divorce.
The final stage of the process is an application for the decree absolute. This document confirms the legal end of your marriage, and you can apply for it no sooner than 6 weeks after you get the decree nisi.
When to get legal assistance
Some people are able to end their marriage amicably, and if they are able to agree on the reasons for the divorce, arrangements for looking after any children, and the way in which you’ll split up money, possessions, and property, a solicitor may not be needed.
Agreements made around these issues from the start of the process usually mean that no court hearing will be necessary, and all paperwork should be relatively simple.
If your marriage is not ending in a friendly and reasonable way, you still may have the chance to do so by undertaking a mediation process with your spouse. This can mean that you may still be able to work out agreements together on what to do about your finances, property and possessions and how to look after your children without going to court.
The Family Mediation Council is one such service that works to assist families with reasonable communication and agreements during divorce.
If your relationship is beyond repair, and communications between parties are unreasonable, unfriendly, and obstructive to the process, and mediation is not working, you should contact a solicitor for assistance.
When considering which solicitor to choose, look for one who is a member of Resolution ( www.resolution.org.uk ). Resolution is an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals in England and Wales, who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. The group also campaign for improvements to the family justice system.
Resolution members are committed to easing the pain and the financial cost of family breakdown. They are encouraged to find solutions rather than confrontation and to take into account the needs of the whole family. If you have children, they encourage you to put your differences aside and work towards a resolution that will minimise the negative impact on them and give the best opportunity for everyone involved to rebuild their lives.
Grounds for divorce proceedings
There are 5 legal ‘grounds’ for divorce, which means that the law will accept only 5 types of reason for a marriage to be divorced.
These grounds are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, living apart for 2 years or more, and living apart for 5 years or more.
What you should know about the grounds for divorce
Adultery only counts if your spouse had sex with a member of the opposite sex. As the law stands at the present time, homosexual sex does not count as adultery, even if it feels like it to aggrieved parties.
You can’t use adultery as a reason if you lived with your spouse for 6 months or longer after you discovered it.
Unreasonable behaviour includes physical, mental and sexual violence, verbal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and refusing to pay for housekeeping. There are also many other types of unreasonable behaviour that will be considered.
Desertion refers to a situation where one spouse has left the other in order to end the relationship, or if there was no good reason for it, or without the agreement of the other. It also counts if one person has left the other for more than 2 years out of 2.5 years, so even if you lived together for 6 months of the 2.5-year period, it is still possible to claim desertion.
Where you have lived apart for 2 or more years, your spouse must agree to the divorce in writing.
Where you have lived apart for 5 or more years, you shouldn’t need an agreement from your spouse; the court will probably accept the grounds.
If you disagree with the divorce
Sometimes a husband and wife cannot agree on the grounds for divorce and where this happens, the person receiving the divorce petition can fill out the part of the paperwork – the acknowledgement of service form – that says they will defend the divorce. This has to be returned to the court within 8 days of receipt and may accrue a £245 court fee.
If you want to start your own divorce proceedings
If you receive a divorce petition and believe that you yourself have grounds for divorce (as per above), you should then fill out a divorce petition form and pay a £410 court fee.
A court hearing may not be necessary if both spouses agree on the divorce grounds. However, if either of you defend the divorce or if you both file divorce petitions, the court will meet to discuss the case. Both spouses should be in attendance for the court hearing to try and arrange an agreement.
You may also request the court to convene a hearing if your application for a decree nisi is rejected by the judge.
If a court hearing is arranged, you should contact a solicitor and get legal advice in advance.
If it was you who started the divorce, you can apply for a decree absolute 6 weeks after you have received the decree nisi. The idea behind the delay is to enable you to discuss financial and other arrangements with your spouse prior to the dissolution of the marriage.
If it was your spouse who began the proceedings but they haven’t applied for a decree absolute, you can apply instead, but you must wait 3 months as well as the 6 weeks before doing so. Where this happens, you will be asked to pay a £155 court fee and to attend a court hearing with your spouse.
If you don’t apply for this within 12 months of receiving the decree nisi, you may have to explain to the court the reasons for the delay.
Provided that all time limits have been kept and that there is no other reason to prevent the divorce, the court will send both spouses a decree absolute, which officially ends the marriage.
Nobody enjoys getting divorced, but the best possible scenario is that the entire process runs smoothly and without obstruction. Legal advice is available at any stage of the proceedings and to assist wherever there are difficulties and disagreements. You should always contact a solicitor for up to date legal advice if there are any issues causing delays in proceedings.
That is our simple guide to getting divorced, unfortunately things aren’t always that simple, if you feel the above is relevant to you then please contact us today and we will get you on the right path to a solution that is right for you.