When you take the decision that your marriage is sadly at an end, it can feel daunting contemplating the process of divorce. Even the word “divorce” can seem hugely emotive. Whilst we can’t take the emotion out of the word divorce, we can help you to understand the process and what it involves.
The starting point
The first step in the process of divorce is completing a divorce petition. The only ground for a divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage but this is proved by citing one of five ‘facts’. These are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, 2 years’ separation (which requires the other party’s consent), or 5 years’ separation (which doesn’t require the other party’s consent). In order to prepare the forms you can either:
- Instruct a solicitor to do this on your behalf.
- Get the forms and complete them yourself.
- Use an online divorce service who may prepare the forms for you or provide you with the forms that you need and send you guidance notes to help you complete them.
There is a court fee for lodging a divorce petition with the court and this will be payable (unless you qualify to be exempt from court fees) whatever option you choose (and you should bear that in mind when looking at the quoted fees for online divorce services). The court fee is currently £550.
The advantage of using a solicitor is that they will be knowledgeable about the process and will be able to navigate any difficulties that arise. This can include circumstances where you don’t know where your ex-spouse lives, or where they won’t co-operate with the divorce. You can also benefit from advice about financial matters, or issues relating to your children, if you are instructing a solicitor.
By completing and lodging the forms yourself you are benefitting from the cheapest option. The court forms are all available for free online via the HM Courts and Tribunals service website (http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/FormFinder.do). Alternatively you can get the forms from your local court office. The court staff cannot help you to complete the forms or advise you about the process. The divorce petition comes with some notes about how to complete the form. You must ensure that it is completed correctly, using the appropriate wording, or you will not be successful in obtaining the divorce.
Using an online divorce service is a half way option between using a solicitor and doing it yourself. There are usually two levels of service offered. The very low charges often involve the online service simply sending you the documents (which are available for free online or from your local court) with notes to help you complete them. While this service may look very competitively priced, you may want to think carefully about what you’re getting for your money. The higher rates for online services usually mean that someone else completes the petition for you. This can be very helpful, as many divorces are refused because the petition has been incorrectly filled in. You should always check the small print as many services will only draft the divorce petition and won’t deal with any problems that arise later in the divorce proceedings, either because your spouse is not co-operating with the process or because your situation is complicated. Crucially, they won’t advise you about your financial position when you get divorced or about your options for claiming a contribution from your spouse for all or part of your costs for the divorce.
The next stage
Once the divorce petition has been lodged with the court in the correct form, it will be issued by the court and sent to your spouse. They then have to complete a form acknowledging that they have received the petition and confirming whether they agree to the divorce. Once your spouse has done this, and assuming that they agree to the divorce, then you can ask the court to pronounce the Decree Nisi. If the judge is satisfied that everything is in order, the court will list a date for the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi. Although this is formally pronounced in open court, very few people attend court to see this happen. This is the interim stage in the divorce and it’s important to remember that you will not be divorced until you receive the Decree Absolute later.
If the paperwork for your divorce is not in order (this would include circumstances where the correct wording has not been used in the documents) then your application for Decree Nisi will be rejected, and you may have to do a lot of work to put right the mistakes. This can be frustrating so it’s best to get the paperwork right from the beginning. A large number of applications are rejected at this stage every year, often repeatedly.
Finalising the divorce and timescales
The whole process of obtaining a divorce usually takes around 6 to 9 months, depending on how quickly all concerned deal with the paperwork, and on any delays in your local court. The divorce often takes longer, however, if there are problems with the completion of the forms, so it is a good idea to hold off making any plans (for example for remarrying) until you know that your divorce has gone through.
After Decree Nisi is pronounced, you have to wait 6 weeks before applying for the Decree Absolute which is the final stage of the divorce. It is only once you have the Decree Absolute that you are formally divorced. In circumstances where you have not yet resolved the financial matters, it is often advisable to wait before applying to finalise the divorce. This is because being divorced can affect your rights under pension schemes and if your ex-spouse were to die before you had resolved the financial matters, but after you were formally divorced, then you could potentially lose out financially.
‘The Quickie Divorce’: There is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’ in law, despite what you may see in the press. Celebrities have to go through the same process as everyone else, and the divorce takes the same amount of time, and follows the same procedural steps. There is no ‘fast track’ divorce process.
‘Divorce is easier after two years’: Clients sometimes come to us believing that divorce is automatic after a separation of two years, or that the procedure is more straight forward at that stage. This is not the case. Although it may be less stressful to get divorced without having to make any allegations about your spouse’s behaviour, or about adultery, the process is the same as for any other divorce. There can be financial implications, however, if you wait two years to get divorced, so it is important to take advice about how this will affect you if you choose to wait.
‘We don’t need legal advice because we’re on good terms’: It is usually much better for all involved if you and your spouse can agree what to do about money issues, and about the care of your children. However, even when you are in an agreement, it may still be worth taking advice about how to make your plans binding. It is important to bear in mind that your spouse could change their mind and come back to ask for a share of your house or other assets in the future, even years later, unless you take formal steps to ensure that your agreement is final.
‘If I see a solicitor, they’ll try to cause arguments between us’: Solicitors, like those at Family Law in Partnership, who are members of Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) are committed to working in a way that avoids inflaming the situation between you and your ex. We understand that it is usually much better for you both, and for your children, if you can agree the arrangements following your separation, and we will respect the importance to you of dealing with the practicalities amicably.
At Family Law in Partnership our leading divorce and family lawyers will ensure that your divorce is dealt with as smoothly, efficiently and sensibly as possible. We understand the emotional impact of separation, and we will do all we can to reduce the stress for you, so you can focus on planning for your future. We have a unique range of family support services including in-house counsellors and parenting classes, and extensive experience across all process options including mediation and arbitration, to help you through the difficulties you may face. If you would like more information on how we can help you with the divorce and separation process, then please contact us today on: E: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: +44 (0)20 7420 5000.