Whilst ending a marriage can be stressful, it need not be overwhelming. The divorce process is actually straightforward and if complications arise, they generally relate to disagreements over the finances or children rather than the dissolution of the marriage itself. Here is a quick guide:
How do I start the divorce process?
So, first of all you need to complete a divorce petition, setting out the reason for the marriage breakdown. This is sent to the court with the original marriage certificate and the court fee of £550 (2018). You are then known as the petitioner and your spouse is known as the respondent. Don’t be concerned by these titles as they have no bearing on how the courts view the parties.
What grounds can be used to file for a divorce?
The law in the UK is often criticised for being out of date as petitioners are still largely required to ‘blame’ their spouse in the divorce petition.
To successfully divorce, you are required to show that the marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ by using one of five tests:
- your spouse’s adultery
- your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour
- two years’ desertion by your spouse
- two years’ separation by consent
- five years’ separation without consent
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is most commonly used, as parties are not required to wait for two or five years. Sadly, this fault-based test is not helpful when you are trying to divorce as amicably as possible.
Where possible, we advise clients to endeavour to agree the contents of the petition with their spouse, before it is sent to the court, to avoid conflict.
What is the process?
Once the divorce petition has been issued by the court, it will be sent to the respondent who must complete and return the acknowledgement of service.
You can then apply for the first of the two divorce decrees, the decree nisi. Although the decree is pronounced in open court, you do not need to attend.
Six weeks and one day following the decree nisi, you can apply for the final decree to officially end the marriage, the decree absolute. Again, this is a paper exercise, court attendance is not required.
How long does it take to get divorced?
Understandably, divorcing couples are often eager to get their divorce wrapped up as soon as possible and to draw a line under what can be a very emotional experience. In reality, a straightforward divorce, without issues in dispute, can take five to six months.
However, this can really depend on factors such as the co-operation of your spouse and their solicitors, along with the court’s caseload at the time.
Can the courts sort out the financial side of the divorce?
Once you have the decree nisi, the court can consider and approve a financial agreement. It is best to record your agreement formally in a consent order, approved by the court.
Despite best intentions, if an agreement through consent cannot be reached with the assistance of mediation or solicitors, it might be necessary to apply to the court for a financial remedy order.
A judge can make an order specifying how the marital assets are to be split. In certain circumstances regular payments by one spouse to the other, either for a certain length of time or indefinitely, can be ordered.
We aim to make the process as pain-free as possible. We will help you reach an agreement with your spouse, or refer you to mediation if necessary – something that will cost significantly less than litigating through to a final hearing.