Divorce is never something that is planned for – the majority of marriages are entered into with positive and optimistic intentions, at a time when the relationship is strong. It’s common, therefore, for individuals to feel completely lost when taking the first steps towards ending a marriage.
It’s a very stressful and emotionally challenging time, whatever your reasons for filing for a divorce, and it’s often difficult to process everything and understand what to expect. So here are a few important points to help you on your way if you’re considering filing for a divorce. You must know your legal rights and legal requirements for divorce when you are planning to file for divorce.
1. Irretrievable breakdown
In England and Wales, a divorce can only go ahead if the marriage in question has experienced an “irretrievable breakdown”. Of course, this is usually a given if one party is applying to bring it to an end, but proof will also be required. This proof could be evidence of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.
Currently, the only alternatives if you do not want to rely any of these fault-based grounds for filing for a divorce, is filing a petition based on your separation; either by two years separation with consent (if you have lived separate lives and lived as two single people to all intents and purposes, however, this requires both parties consent) or five years separation without consent (if you have been separated for five or more years, the consent of the other party is not required in order for divorce proceedings to begin). Neither of these options require proof of any wrongdoing.
(Plans to introduce a ‘no-fault’ based divorce system have been approved, but are yet to be implemented).
2. Going to court
The majority of divorces do not require the couple in question to be present in any court of law. If you want this arrangement when filing for a divorce, here’s what you should do when getting a divorce.
If both parties consent to the divorce proceeding, a solicitor can make all the arrangements and manage the procedure on your behalf.
However, it is always preferable to reach an agreement on the settlement of your matrimonial finances before the divorce is finalized and it is often key to seek early advice from a family law solicitor.
The average cost of a divorce that is undefended is around £1,500 if you use a solicitor. There is a mandatory £550 expense to be paid to the court for filing for a divorce petition.
Under certain limited circumstances – for example, if you are divorcing an abusive or violent partner – you may be able to apply for legal aid to help. Again there are occasions when you can get financial assistance to pay for mediation if you are on a low income with savings of below £8,000.
A typical divorce will take up to 6 months if it is undefended. If the other party contests the decision to divorce, they have 21 days to do so after the divorce petition is delivered. There is no clear guidelines for how long a defended divorce will take, as it is dependent on whether an agreement is achieved or a contested hearing through the court is required.
As well as the time it takes for the court to process all information relating to the divorce, the divorcing couple must also wait a minimum of six weeks and a day (if you are the petitioner in the divorce) after achieving the ‘decree nisi’ (the mid-way point of the divorce process – obtained when the court is satisfied that all requirements have been met in order for you and your partner to divorce)to apply for a ‘decree absolute’ (an official end to your marriage – you can only apply for this once six weeks and one day has passed from the date of decree nisi).
If you are the respondent in divorce proceedings you have to wait a further three months, after which you can issue an application to the court, to obtain the decree absolute.
It is worth noting that the decree is not automatically granted by simply lodging a straightforward notice to the court, as it would be if the petitioner was applying. These decrees are known as a conditional order and a final order if a civil partnership is being dissolved.
5. Financial arrangements
Things you must do before you file for divorce does not include making any decisions regarding financial arrangements, child maintenance or support. These things are naturally, extremely important, but they can be discussed at any point throughout the proceedings or afterwards.
Remember, any voluntary maintenance agreement is not legally binding unless a consent order is made through the court, so it is a good idea to look into this option if you are concerned that your ex-partner is likely to refuse to pay child support in the future.
Any application for child maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service is a separate process and is not something the court have the power to order, unless an agreement is reached between the parties voluntarily, or the paying parents income exceeds the Child Maintenance Service maximum assessment, currently £3,000 gross per week.
Before a court can approve any agreement reached between the parties, the court must have pronounced the decree nisi as it grants the court the power to approve a financial settlement; thus making it legally enforceable.
It is strongly recommended that parties do not apply to finalize their divorce without reaching an agreement or having a sealed order from the court regarding the division of the marital finances. Finalizing the divorce itself, before reaching a financial settlement could affect one party’s entitlement on certain policies from the marriage, such as life insurance or pensions, as you are no longer spouses. It also advisable to revise any Will and the ownership of properties.
It is also of vital importance to ensure that all financial matters have been fully resolved before considering remarriage.
If you are going to remarry and you have a not resolved financial matters with an ex-spouse, your remarriage could prevent you from making any claim in the future against them.
6. Division of assets
This element of filing for a divorce varies greatly from couple to couple and on the circumstances of each case. While you can make the decision to divide everything 50/50, if your circumstances are relatively straightforward (if you have no children or other dependents, and only one major asset, for example a house) and ask the court to approve that agreement.
If your position is too complex to come to an agreement when filing for a divorce, your spouse is unwilling to cooperate or you simply cannot agree the court will exercise its discretion and make a determination for you upon the application of either party.
Any financial settlement reached, whether negotiated or ordered by the court, is based on Section 25 of the Matrimonial Courses Act 1973, which takes into account everything from income, financial resources, previous contributions to the marriage or properties, physical or financial needs, responsibilities, ages, standards of living before the breakdown of the marriage, number of dependents and their individual needs.
Factors such as post separation finances of each party, whether one party is cohabiting with a new partner or has any intentions to re-marry are also relevant. The overriding principles for the court when considering a financial settlement is the consideration of any children, whether a clean break can be achieved and fairness.
Because of the understandable level of optimism with which the majority of couples enter a marriage, prenuptial agreements are still relatively rare; they are however increasing in popularity.
Pre-nuptial agreements (or Post-nuptial agreements) simplify things a great deal, as they are a strong indication to the court of the parties intentions and allow a couple to lay out their preferred way to divide assets should the marriage break down.
Generally speaking, if a pre-nuptial agreement is entered into without duress, with full understanding and it meets the needs of the parties, the court are reluctant to deviate from it.
Almost any element of filing for a divorce can be made easier by mediation. This can be set up through most divorce solicitors, and provides a fair and understanding environment in which to come to an agreement.
Whether you’re struggling to agree arrangements for children, financial matters or any other aspect, you can call upon a mediator to help you have a constructive discussion and to ensure that you are both aware of your options.
If you are preparing to petition for filing for a divorce, we highly recommend that you seek legal advice and assistance beforehand. These proceedings can feel like something of a maze, particularly during this emotional time of filing for a divorce, and having help will always be beneficial to you.
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If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.