From 6th April 2022, divorcing couples will only need to, and only be able to, cite “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole ground for a divorce – and they will not have to provide any further reasons beyond that. This will allow couples to secure a divorce without assigning blame which will hopefully increase the chances of them being able to amicably resolve any other issues that arise (such as issues around the child arrangements or in respect of the matrimonial finances). Furthermore, it will no longer be possible for a party to defend the divorce and fight for the parties to remain married. The ultimate aim of these profound changes is to reduce conflict between separating couples.
It is important to remember that divorce ends the marriage but does not end any financial or child arrangement issues that may arise between the parties. We can provide expert legal advice in respect of these issues and assist you in properly resolving them.
- You cannot begin divorce proceedings until you have been married for at least a year.
- You can apply for a divorce by yourself (sole applicant) or make a joint application with the spouse you are seeking to divorce (joint applicants).
- The sole available ground for the application will be that one, or indeed both, of you consider that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Applications will be made online through the court portal (although paper applications will still be possible where appropriate). The court fee to make the application is currently £593.
- Once the application has been issued by the court, it will be served on the parties. Under the new rules effective service can be via email.
- The respondent (i.e. the person who receives the application if the process has been started by a sole applicant) will have 14 days to respond once served with notice of a divorce application. In respect of a joint divorce application, both parties must respond within 14 days of receipt. In most cases these responses it will be possible to submit these responses digitally.
20-week ‘cooling off’ period
There will be a minimum 20-week ‘cooling off’ period before the applicant(s) can apply to the court for a ‘conditional order’ (formerly referred to as ‘Decree Nisi’). This gives the parties time to reflect on the decision to proceed with a divorce and time to hopefully make some progress resolving any issues that may have arisen with regards children and/or finances.
- A conditional order means that the court accepts you are entitled to a divorce, but it does not mean your divorce is yet final. In the eyes of the law, you are still married.
- It is possible to switch from a joint application to a sole application if one of the parties refuses to apply for a conditional order.
- After the court has reviewed the application (whether sole or joint), a date will be set and confirmed for the making of the conditional order.
- There is then a mandatory six-week period from the date the conditional order is made before the applicant(s) can apply for a final order. The final order, once made, legally ends your marriage.
As already mentioned, the divorce process does not resolve any financial or child arrangements issues that many arise. We strongly recommend that both parties seek legal advice on these issues early on the process and ideally even before divorce proceedings are commenced. If parties are between themselves able to amicably resolve all issues relating to the children then there is no need to formalise any agreements reached and you are unlikely to need to involve lawyers let alone the courts. However, with regards financial issues, even if the parties are able to agree a full settlement it would still be extremely sensible a) to get it checked by a lawyer and, assuming the settlement is fair, b) to tie the agreement down properly as a financial ‘consent order’ – for which you will need the assistance of a lawyer. It is generally wise to have a consent order in place before you apply and secure a final order in the divorce. The changes to the divorce process do not have any impact on the way the courts look to settle disputes in relation to the finances, and the law in that regard remains unchanged.
If parties are unable to reach agreement in respect of the child arrangements and/or the finances, we would always encourage parties not to rush into court proceedings and to first consider and explore all other options, such as mediation and the collaborative law process. Our family law experts are here to help discuss these options with you and we are also able to offer the collaborative law process.
How we can help:
- If you and your spouse are able to reach a financial settlement agreement, we can assist you a) in preparing a suitable consent order in line with that agreement, and b) in then applying to the court for endorsement of that court order (thus rendering it binding and closing the door on future financial claims and issues). It is usual for such an order to include a ‘clean break’ provision although on occasion it is appropriate for there to be ongoing maintenance payments under a settlement (again, this is something that our experienced team of family law experts can advise you on).
- If you are unsure about whether a proposed financial settlement is ‘fair’ and in your best interests, we can assess the terms of the settlement and offer advice. In the meantime, as above, we would advise against applying for the Final Order and finalising the divorce.
- If you have not been able to reach a financial settlement agreement with your spouse, or to make any progress in this regard, we can assist you with negotiations and ultimately represent you in contested court proceedings, very much as a last resort, if it becomes clear that unfortunately it is not going to be possible to settle matters in any other way.
Sorting out financial and child-related issues on separation and divorce is a daunting prospect for couples; but it is important for your future, and the future of any children of the marriage, that you do properly resolve and draw a line under these issues. If you are struggling to reach an agreement, we can help you to resolve issues with as little conflict and cost as possible, whilst ensuring you understand your legal rights and options throughout the process.
For more information on no fault divorce, civil partnership dissolution or financial issues, please contact us on 01926 354704.