Divorce Process

1. UNDERSTANDING THE DIVORCE PROCESS

If you believe your marriage to be over and consider issues with your partner unresolvable, you may be ready to bring the relationship to a formal end with a divorce.

Circumstances vary by couple, and may include:

a) Those still living together.
b) Those that have separated and lost contact.
c) Those that have separated but may now be on friendly terms.

If you are approaching the divorce process, you are either initiating the divorce (the petitioner) or are the person being divorced (the respondent).

In order to complete the divorce process, the petitioner must have a good reason to want a divorce. Lawyers and divorce courts refer to these reasons as “grounds for divorce”.

2. THE FIVE GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

A divorce is a legally binding contract between two people, which is why you must provide suitable grounds for divorce in order to legally end the relationship.

The law accepts that relationships may irretrievably break down, therefore, will agree to the dissolution of a relationship (divorce), so long as one of the following five grounds are cited.

A petitioner must declare why they want the divorce and, in almost all cases, the respondent must accept and agree to the grounds in order for the divorce to go ahead.

There are five permitted grounds for divorce, as follows:

I. Adultery

In order to cite adultery, your partner will have had sex with someone else and, as a result, you find it intolerable to live with them.

You must have separated from your partner within six months of finding out and, if your partner does not admit to it, you will need evidence.

II. Unreasonable behaviour

This is the most common reason used as a ground for divorce.

Here, you find your partner’s behaviour to be so unreasonable you should not be expected to continue living with them. You must have separated within six months of the behaviour happening.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour might include:

  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Gambling.
  • Lack of emotional support.
  • Wasting money.
  • Violent behaviour.

III. Desertion

If citing desertion as a ground for divorce, your partner must have left you, without your agreement and without good reason; disappearing for at least two of the last two and a half years.

Here, you must not have lived together again for more than six months during this period.

IV. Two years’ separation

You have been living apart for at least two years and you both agree to divorce.

V. Five years’ separation

You have been living apart for five years. Here your partner does not need to agree to the divorce.

Looking for more information on the various grounds for divorce?

Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll connect you to a local lawyer to arrange Free First Advice for you.

3. THE DIVORCE PROCESS IN FIVE STEPS

No two divorces are alike, which is why it can be difficult for a solicitor to provide an accurate quote in advance of a divorce. 

Nevertheless, all of the law firms belonging to the QualitySolicitors group are happy to discuss fees in advance, to help you budget. We will seek approval before carrying out any work, in order to avoid any unwanted expenses.

Set fees are available in some instances, but will depend on the anticipated complexity of your divorce process.

Some divorces are quicker and simpler than others, but despite these differences, most divorces follow five distinct steps.

Five steps to divorce

As the petitioner, you should expect a divorce process to follow these five steps.

If you are a respondent, you may disregard step one.

Step I: Completing the petition form+

Starting the legal process

When you are sure you would like to begin the divorce process, the first step is to complete the divorce petition. This is a request to the court for permission to divorce, and includes the reasons why you want the marriage to end.

The divorce petition is a court form requesting a court order, which will declare the end your marriage. Whoever files the divorce petition at court is then officially referred to as “the petitioner”.

You will need your original marriage certificate to complete some of the information and, if this is not in English (or Welsh if you live in Wales), you will need to arrange an official translation. Your marriage certificate will also need to be filed at court, together with the divorce petition and a court fee of £410. You may  be able to get help with court fees if you are on benefits or a low income. Legal aid may be available in certain circumstances although since April 2013 this has been withdrawn for most divorce cases, 

The answers you give when completing the petition must show your relationship has reached the point of no return (irretrievable breakdown of marriage) and that you can show one of the five grounds for divorce.

Step II: Court order+

Dealing with the court

The court will send a copy of the divorce petition to the respondent. If you have named someone in the divorce petition that your partner has been unfaithful with, they will also receive copies of the paperwork.

The respondent has eight days to send back an acknowledgement to the court to confirm whether or not they will agree in principle to the divorce.

If the respondent agrees to the divorce, even if they dispute the arrangements, this is known as an uncontested divorce. If the respondent disagrees in principle with the divorce they then have up to 21 days to say why they are defending the divorce and may have to pay a court fee,  

Upon receipt of a copy of the acknowledgement from the court, the petitioner must then complete two more forms:

An application for decree nisi or conditional order

A ‘decree nisi’ is a document marking the interim stage in a divorce. The word ‘nisi’ in Latin means ‘unless’ and the document itself signifies that you have the court’s permission to get divorced, providing that you do not change your mind.  

The application for decree nisi is a request for the court to consider the completed divorce paperwork, so a judge can decide if you are entitled to a divorce. You can apply for decree nisi whether or not your partner agrees in principle to the divorce, however further information and a hearing may be required if your partner does not agree,

A statement in support

This is a form in which you answer a series of questions about your original court forms and the basis of your divorce. There are 5 different forms – you should use the one relevant to the grounds you are relying upon to request the divorce in your divorce petition,

Judge’s review of paperwork

A judge will then privately review all of the forms. You will not need to attend court for this process.

The forms under review include:

  • The petition.
  • The respondent’s acknowledgement form.
  • The application and statement in support.

The judge may then ask for further information about your grounds for divorce and may request both the petitioner and the respondent to attend a court hearing.

Court hearing

If you are requested to attend a court hearing, you will be advised on the additional information you must provide.

Occasionally, a judge may advise that they are unhappy with your proposed arrangements for the children, and may ask you and your partner for further action, which might involve a further meeting at court, a welfare report on what is best for your children by an adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (known as Cafcass) or a court order.

Next steps

Once a judge has confirmed he or she is happy with your grounds for divorce and your arrangements, they will send both you and your partner a ‘certificate of entitlement to a decree’ and a ‘decree nisi’. As above, the decree nisi marks the interim point of your divorce and, ‘unless’ you change your mind, once you have your decree nisi, your divorce can go ahead.

You do however need to wait at least a six week cooling off period (step 5 of this process). This period in theory allows you and your partner to change your mind about the divorce, but in practice it is often more useful to allow you to discuss financial or other issues with your partner before the marriage formally comes to an end,

Once the cooling off period has expired (i.e. six weeks and one day after the decree nisi) you will need to apply to the court for a ‘decree absolute’. This is the document which formally ends your marriage. Further detail about applying for the decree absolute is provided at step 5 below.

Once you have the decree absolute you will officially be divorced. However you may still have financial or other issues to resolve with your partner and it may be sensible to deal with these issues before applying for your decree absolute. You should speak to your lawyer about this, and should not consider applying for decree absolute or remarrying without doing so, as your financial settlement rights will be affected.

If you are unable to reach an agreement with your partner on outstanding matters, you may need further advice, guidance or assistance as outlined in the following steps.

Step III: Mediation+

Mediation is designed to help

Mediation isn’t just another expense, but a cost-effective way for you and your partner to reach an agreement on the list of matters still in need of a resolution. 

It does not aim to get you back together; rather it is about helping you to be apart. For mediation to work effectively, you will both need to accept your relationship is over and agreed to try this method.

A couple will usually agree to split the cost, unless agreed otherwise, for example, if just one of you is earning or one spouse earns considerably more than the other. In very limited circumstances, legal aid may be available for mediation, and, naturally, we’ll advise you if this is possible.

When does mediation take place?

Mediation can take place at any stage of the divorce process, but you will both have to be ready to discuss the arrangements.

It could take place as a first step, to enable you both to reach an agreement on key issues before completing the petition and statement of arrangements for the children, or it could take place after a judge has queried certain proposals you’ve both made to the court.

Mediation must be considered, and you are required to meet with a mediator at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM – see below) before you go to court to resolve these ongoing issues. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example where there has been domestic abuse,

What happens during mediation?

You and your former partner will sit down with a trained mediator, who will:

  • Take charge of the discussion process and negotiations.
  • Try to ensure you both have an equal say.
  • Remain independent.

The mediator will not:

  • Offer counselling or legal advice.
  • Promote either of your interests.
  • Take sides.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)

This meeting is usually the first stage of the mediation process. It will provide you with an assessment of your situation and advise whether mediation could solve your problems.

Discussions are confidential (unless child protection issues are raised). This means if either of you offers a confession during mediation (perhaps to try and secure agreement) that information can’t be referred to in court.

The aim of the mediator will be to help you both reach an agreement. It will cover all the matters you need to resolve as part of the divorce process, relating to arrangements for children, your home, and your finances.

Mediation can also be a place where the children's wishes and feelings are considered. If the mediator considers it is in their best interests - and the children are willing to do so - they can also be part of the process.

Step IV: Financial arrangements+

The final set of issues you will need to agree on with your former partner is how to distribute your home, money, possessions, savings and pension.

Can you reach an agreement on finances?

If you reach agreement with your partner on how your finances will be split, you can ask the court to make it legally binding by applying for a ‘consent order’ Whether you negotiate directly with each other, through lawyers, or with the help of mediation, make sure your agreement is recorded in the form of a consent order, before your divorce is finalised.

Clean break agreement

This is one type of agreement that you both can consider. It may be suitable when:

  • The marriage has been short.
  • There are no children (or any children are now grown up).
  • Both of you are financially self-sufficient or it is reasonable to expect you to both to take steps to become self-sufficient.

This is a way of sorting out your finances which leads to you quickly becoming financially independent of each other, with no on-going reliance on each other for financial support.

In a dispute over finances?

If you are unable to agree with your partner about what happens to your finances you may have to use the court process for a judge to decide what is fair. The judge will then make a ‘financial order’.  

As long as the judge is happy with your arrangements for the children, the formalities of the divorce itself can go ahead and any complex financial disputes can continue after you’re officially divorced. The financial arrangements process is separate from the legalities of the divorce itself and usually takes longer – often between 6 and 12 months. It may involve a number of court attendances. The court can make interim and final orders about what will happen to your finances,

As above, you will need to consider mediation before going to court.

The court process for financial disputes has five main stages:

  1. You try to use mediation (or at least consider trying it) to resolve the financial dispute.
  2. You complete a short financial application. You then complete the financial statement form (called a Form E). This is a comprehensive form covering all of your finances. You should allow plenty of time to complete this.
  3. Attend the “First Appointment”.  You must both personally attend this appointment at court with a judge who can give instructions called “directions” for further steps to be followed, ask for further information, give you time for mediation, try to resolve the dispute with you or set up a second attendance at court called a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (sometimes called an FDR).
  4. Attend a “Financial Dispute Resolution” hearing (FDR).  Again you must both attend at court and the judge will try to help you to reach agreement on the matters you’re unable to agree on. If you’re still unable to resolve your disagreement at this hearing the judge will fix a date for a final hearing.
  5. Attend a “Final Hearing”.  If you have still not been able to agree, the judge will make the decisions needed on your behalf. 

The financial applications you can ask the court to order

Types of financial orders the court can make include;

Clean break order: an order making it clear that your financial responsibility for your partner, and theirs for you, is over. Neither partner pays anything to the other.

Maintenance pending suit: a short-term order, to help you out financially now, before everything is finally sorted out.

Sale of property: to raise money to be divided or to pay off debts.

Property adjustment order: This is the transfer of a property into the ownership of just one of you.

Periodical payments order: Regular payments from one of you to the other, usually monthly. This is often referred to as maintenance payments. The law considers it important that payments are regular, so the financial support can be relied upon.

Secured provision order: A type of maintenance order with regular monetary payments secured against an asset. For example, if secured against a property and your partner stops paying, you can force the sale of the property so you are paid any missed payments.

Lump sum payment order: Instead of (or as well as) regular payments, this is a lump sum payment from one of you to the other.

Additional child maintenance order: Periodic payments to cover situations not covered by the Child Maintenance Service (also known as the Child Support Agency) including:

  • Step children.
  • Additional payments to cover a child’s disability.
  • Private education or training course.
  • Payments for children living abroad.

Pension sharing order: The division of a pension if, for example, pension contributions were made from joint funds, whilst you were married, but the pension is only registered to one of you.

Pension attachment order: This sets out what proportion of any pension payments belonging to either partner are made to the other.

Pension compensation sharing order: The division of any compensation from a pension which is in the Pension Protection Fund.

Pension compensation attachment order: This sets out the percentage of any compensation due to either partner from the Pension Protection Fund that will be paid to the other partner..

Step V: Divorce finalised+

Decree absolute

Once everything has been agreed, or an order made by the court, you may apply to the court for a “decree absolute” (or final order) but only after the cooling off period of at least six weeks.  You should apply for a decree absolute within 12 months of getting a decree nisi or you will need to explain the delay to the court.

If you are the petitioner you can apply to the court for the decree absolute immediately after the cooling off period expires (ie six weeks and one day after the decree nisi). If the petitioner does not make the application, the respondent is entitled to do so, but the respondent has to wait a further three months after expiry of the cooling off period before their application can be made,

If everything is in order, the court will send a decree absolute to both you and your partner. At this stage, your marriage will be officially over.

You should keep your decree absolute in a safe place, as this is your legal proof that you are no longer married and that you are now legally able to remarry.

As above, you may still have financial or other issues to resolve with your partner, which it may be sensible to deal with before applying for your decree absolute. You should speak to your lawyer about this, and should not consider applying for decree absolute or remarrying without considering the impact it would have on your financial arrangements, as your financial settlement rights will be affected.

Any other questions?

For any other questions, please 01978227280 and we will connect you to a local lawyer who will be able to help. 

It won’t cost a thing to get Free First Advice, and we’ll always let you the costs of our services before carrying out any work.

4. LEGAL SERVICES RELATING TO RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

No two relationship breakdowns are identical and, while some splits are finalised relatively quickly and simply, others find certain issues crop up that are out of the ordinary.

We offer specialist relationship breakdown services designed to help you move quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively through the separation process.

5. CIVIL PARTNERSHIP DISSOLUTION

When a civil partnership breaks down, you may decide it’s time to end the relationship and go your separate ways. As with divorce, there is a legal process for ending a civil partnership, known as civil partnership dissolution.

From 2014, it has been possible for same-sex couples to get married and divorced. Prior to this, only civil partnerships were permitted. If you are married the relevant process for ending your marriage is divorce and the process is described above. If you have a civil partnership the process for ending your relationship is dissolution, This is similar to the process for divorce, although there are some slight differences.

How we can help

QualitySolicitors has experts in dissolution and can guide you through the process every step of the way.

The court will need proof the civil partnership has broken down, but we can help with this and will explain exactly what is required.

If you are thinking about civil partnership dissolution, it’s likely you will have lots of questions regarding your home, possessions and finances. If children are involved, you’ll want to ensure their wellbeing is protected too. Our legal experts will answer all the questions you have, providing advice and support to make the process easier.

Deciding to end a relationship can be tough, but our lawyers will explain all of your options so you can start to plan for the future. We’ll ensure you are treated fairly during and after the dissolution.

Everything will be explained in a clear and easy to understand way, using plain English, free of legal jargon. We offer a free, initial, over-the-phone chat and will explain costs and timescales up front, so you always know what to expect.

Do you need experienced advice about the dissolution of a civil partnership?

We offer confidential, friendly guidance, and our Free First Advice means you can speak to a lawyer for around 15 minutes without any charge. Contact us today on 01978227280 to see how we can help you.

6. SEPARATION ADVICE

Whether you’re facing a marriage separation, civil partnership breakdown or are ending a relationship after living together, it’s likely you’ll have lots of questions and concerns about your home, possessions, finances and children.

How we can help

We offer practical and sympathetic legal support to separating couples and can help you put a separation agreement in place to make the process easier.

If you’re considering a trial separation, we can provide help and advice. Whether you then choose to rebuild your relationship, or make the separation permanent, we’ll help you understand your options, so you can make the right decisions.

Our friendly and knowledgeable lawyers will get to know you and your circumstances, so we can provide the best possible advice tailored to your unique situation.

Everything will be explained clearly in a language free of legal jargon. With QualitySolicitors’ free, initial over-the-phone chat with a legal expert, it won’t cost you a penny to see how we can help you. Plus we’ll explain the costs and timescales involved up front.

Our advice is confidential so if there is anything you are unsure of you can be confident that you will get the best possible advice and what you discuss with us will be held in the strictest confidence.

Do you need advice about a separation matter?

Call us on 01978227280 and we’ll arrange Free First Advice with a local law firm so you can speak to one of our solicitors today for confidential and friendly separation advice.

7. SEPARATION, CIVIL PARTNERSHIP DISSOLUTION, AND DIVORCE ADVICE

During a divorce or separation, it is important to be prepared. At times, the process can seem confusing and it’s easy to miss important steps that could cause you additional hassle in the future.

Below is a handy checklist of practical steps to take, to give you a little more clarity during this unsettling time.

Divorce, Civil Partnership Dissolution and Separation checklist

This checklist will guide you through some of the first steps you should make when divorcing, dissolving your civil partnership or separating.

I. Preparing your family+

If there are children involved, divorce or separation can be a confusing time for them. The following tips may help maintain as smooth a transition as possible for all concerned:

Explain the situation as best you can to your children: They should be informed of the impending change. Generally, the more they know, the better they can learn to adapt.

Do not pass blame onto children for the relationship breakdown: Ensure you reiterate to children that parents, as well as grandparents and other family members, will still be involved in their lives.

Try to stay in contact with your in-laws: This is for your children’s benefit as well as your own. They can act as extra support for you, which can help maintain the family unit for your children’s wellbeing.

If you can, create a parenting schedule: This is to set out when and where children will see you and your ex-partner.  Stick to it as best you can; the routine will help them to adjust to their new circumstances.

Avoid acting or speaking negatively about your ex-partner to your children: You may want to vent, but if you do this to your children they may feel like they need to choose or favour one parent over another.

Inform your children’s schools: Not only for administration reasons, but to make the school aware of your family’s change in circumstance. This way, they can support your child in extra ways, should they need it.

II. Getting to grips with your finances+

Essential paperwork

If you’re going through a divorce, civil partnership dissolution or separation, it’s important to understand your financial situation and regain financial independence.

First, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Can you keep your family home, or will you need to sell?
  • How will you divide personal property, assets, cars etc.?
  • Where will your ex-partner live?
  • How will the children’s financial payments be divided?

Organise and understand your finances

Gather financial documents for any outstanding debts, investments and savings: This will give you a clearer picture of your situation, saving save time if and when you choose to talk to a lawyer.

Create a new spending budget: Your spending habits may need to change during and after the separation, divorce or dissolution, so evaluate your disposable income, set yourself a budget and stick to it.

Detail your spending: This way you know what’s coming in and out of your accounts.​

Talk to your lawyer about what your separation will cost: This will help you to budget for your divorce or dissolution. We’ll help as much as possible so you know what you’re required to pay upfront. Talk to us about our fixed fee divorce and civil partnership dissolution options, for added peace of mind.

Contact your bank for advice about any joint accounts you may have: This can help to protect yourself against your ex-partner withdrawing money in the account without your knowledge.​

Open new savings and current bank accounts: These accounts should be opened up in your name only and at a different bank to where you hold any joint accounts, so payments and tax credits can be paid directly to you.​​

Open new credit card accounts in your name: If you don’t have them already, a new credit card can help you to start building your own credit rating.​​  Don’t be tempted to use it if you don’t need it, the last thing you want to be worrying about is debt.

Make the relevant changes to your will: If you don’t have one, make one.  This is extremely important to ensure your wishes are carried out in the event of your death and your assets are given to your chosen beneficiaries.

III. Notifying the right organisations about your divorce/civil partnership dissolution/separation+

Telling other people

It can be daunting, but telling the relevant organisations you are going to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership will save you hassle later on.  

You should let the following people know of your divorce or dissolution and any changes to your contact details and next of kin, if needed:

  • Your landlord or mortgage lender.
  • The local Council Tax department (you may be entitled to a 25% discount if you live alone).
  • Your bank and any creditors.
  • Tax Credit Office (if you receive or want to apply for Tax Credits).
  • Jobcentre Plus (if you or your partner receives benefits).
  • Local Authority (if you receive Housing Benefit).
  • Disability and Carers Service (if you receive Disability Living Allowance).
  • Your employer.
  • Utility companies.
  • Insurance companies.
  • Post Office (if you need to redirect your post to a new address).
  • DVLA.
  • Passport Office.
  • TV Licensing.
  • Doctor and dentist.

Many people delay this stage, as it’s a reminder the separation, divorce or civil partnership dissolution is real and final, but it really is better to have your general administration in order. 

Remember, we’re here to help when you need us.

Call 01978227280 so we can arrange Free First Advice for you with a friendly local law firm.

8. OUR OTHER DIVORCE PROCESS-RELATED LEGAL SERVICES

No two divorces are identical and, while some divorces are finalised relatively quickly and simply, others find certain issues crop up that are out of the ordinary.

We offer specialist divorce-related services designed to help you move quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively through the divorce process.

9. MEDIATION

The more you can agree with your  partner, regarding financial matters and arrangements for children, the quicker and less upsetting the process will be.

But, for instances where an agreement can’t be made, we offer specialist mediation services to our clients, to help them find an agreeable way through any obstacles. 

Family Mediation Services

At QualitySolicitors we offer an expert mediation service to help you get family life back on track.

Mediation is a recognised process, designed to help people resolve disputes with the help of a trained, relationship expert.

Unlike court cases, where there is typically a “winner” and a “loser", mediation tries to find a solution that works for all parties involved.

Mediation Solicitors

Our mediation service has helped many families find solutions and compromises to the problems they are facing.

Our expert mediators will put you at ease and make the process as straightforward as possible.

If you’re not ready to talk to your partner face-to-face, we can even arrange separate sessions for each of you.

Want to find out more about our mediation services now?

Call us today on 01978227280 for your Free First Advice, so you can ask any questions you have before deciding if mediation is right for you.

10. DISSOLUTION

When a civil partnership or same sex marriage breaks down, you may decide it’s time to end the relationship and go your separate ways. As with divorce, there is a legal process for ending a civil partnership, often known as civil partnership dissolution.

From 2014, it has been possible for same-sex couples to get married and divorced. Prior to this, only civil partnerships were permitted and this guide covers the ending of civil partnerships of same–sex couples. 

How we can help

QualitySolicitors has experts in relationship dissolution and can guide you through the process every step of the way.

Courts will need proof the partnership has broken down, but we can help with this and will explain exactly what is required.

If considering partnership dissolution, it’s likely you will have lots of questions regarding your home, possessions and finances. If children are involved, you’ll want to ensure their wellbeing is protected too. Our legal experts will answer all the questions you have, providing advice and support to make the process easier.

Deciding to end a relationship can be tough, but our solicitors will explain all of your options so you can start to plan for the future. We’ll ensure you are treated fairly during and after the dissolution.

Everything will be explained in a clear and easy to understand way, using plain English, free of legal jargon. We offer a free, initial, over-the-phone chat and will explain costs and timescales up front, so you always know what to expect.

Do you need experienced advice about the dissolution of a civil partnership?

We offer confidential, friendly guidance, and our Free First Advice means you can speak to a lawyer for around 15 minutes without any charge. Contact us today on 01978227280 to see how we can help you.

11. COLLABORATIVE LAW

When you’re facing divorce, civil partnership dissolution or separation, it’s natural to feel daunted by the process – particularly if you’re worried about lengthy court battles or the financial cost. Collaborative law provides a real alternative to difficult and stressful divorce proceedings.

How we can help

Collaborative law is a process that enables couples to come to an agreement without going to court. You’ll both meet, along with each of your collaboratively trained lawyers, in the same room at the same time.

You, your partner and your lawyers sign an agreement committing to trying to resolve the issues without going to court, and preventing your lawyers from representing you if the collaborative process breaks down. This ensures that everyone is committed to finding the best possible solution without having to go through court proceedings. It also provides an opportunity for you to discuss your own situations and try to reach compromises both parties can be happy with. It gives you the opportunity to make decisions together about finances, property, and childcare.

Collaborative law can avoid the uncertainty of going to court, helps maintain good relationships, and can speed up the process, often saving you money.

At QualitySolicitors we have experienced lawyers who can represent you throughout the collaborative law process. We will ensure you receive the best legal advice and ensure you are represented fairly.

Would you like to find out more about the benefits of collaborative law? 

Call one of our friendly team of solicitors on 01978227280. With our Free First Advice, you can have an initial chat about your own situation, free and without obligation.