The Divorce Process: Family Law Information

The Divorce Process

Divorce is the legal process through which two people end their marriage and the legal status that it provides. It is usually an extremely emotional time for the parties involved and also for their children, if they have any. The best way to make your divorce process as smooth as possible is to find a solicitor who you can trust and work comfortably with.

It is important that both parties understand their legal position on divorce and know exactly to what they are entitled. A divorce solicitor can make sure finances and property are properly distributed and arrangements are made for children, leaving no room for disagreements.

Petitioning for divorce

In order to begin the process of divorce one party to the marriage must present a petition for divorce on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. It is important to note that the parties must have been married for at least a year before they are able to make such a petition.

Whether the marriage is broken down irretrievably is not simply a matter of opinion, and there is legislation stating that at least one of five factors must be present before any court will make a ruling that the marriage has in fact broken down irretrievably. These five grounds for divorce are as follows: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, living apart for two years and both parties consent to the divorce, living apart for five years, and desertion.

Acknowledgment of service

A copy of the petition must be sent to the other party along with a statement of arrangements for the children (if applicable) and an acknowledgment of service. The respondent must inform the petitioner in the acknowledgment of service whether they will be contesting the divorce. The acknowledgment of service is therefore an extremely important document as it shows the court that the other party is aware of the petition. If the other party refuses to return the acknowledgment of service you may have to arrange for a process server or bailiff to serve the document and make an affidavit stating that they have done so.

Decree nisi

If the court is satisfied that there are valid grounds for divorce it may well grant what is known as a decree nisi. A decree nisi will generally be granted when a divorce is not being contested and there are valid grounds for divorce. The party who made the petition must then apply to have the decree made absolute which they cannot do until at least six weeks and one day from the date of the decree nisi.

Decree absolute

The decree absolute is what actually ends the marriage, as opposed to the decree nisi which merely declares there are satisfactory grounds. Once the decree absolute has been pronounced the marriage has officially ended and usually the parties will begin ancillary relief proceedings: the name given for deciding how the matrimonial assets should be split.

Ancillary relief proceedings

The ancillary relief proceedings are often fiercely contested as a judge will rule on who should have what from the matrimonial assets. The ancillary relief process can be quite long and usually involves three trips to court.

  • A first appointment in which a judge outlines his position and ensures appropriate disclosure has taken place.
  • A financial dispute resolution hearing in which a judge (a different judge from who will be in attendance at the final hearing) will give an indication of what he would order in the hope the parties then settle on similar terms and avoid a final hearing.
  • A final hearing in which an order will be made.

With the potential for several court visits, it is in both parties’ interests to try to facilitate an early settlement to avoid significant legal costs.

My Spouse and I are looking to separate, however we do not wish to go through with the whole divorce procedure just yet, is there another way we can separate without going through this?

In Divorce Law the term divorce means that a marriage has been irretrievably broken down. It may be that in your situation this is not the case and you are not looking for a final decision but rather an agreement not to carry out your marital obligations or to benefit from your marriage in any way until you make a decision whether to officially divorce or not.

If this is the case you should write a separation agreement. A separation agreement is not a divorce; it is merely an order of court which dissolves the obligations or benefits brought on by a marriage. In such cases you and your spouse will agree beforehand about any financial agreements, the children and the planned divorce. This agreement is binding on you and your spouse until the divorce commences during which time the courts will make an order confirming the terms of the separation agreement.

If you are seeking to carry out a separation agreement, it is advisable that both you and your spouse employ the services if a divorce lawyer or family solicitor before agreeing to any of the terms you intend to set out in the agreement. The separation agreement identifies the parties to the agreement and confirms that both you and your spouse have received legal advice on the matter. Both parties will then agree in the separation agreement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that they are planning their divorce.

It is prudent at this stage to get legal advice on your division of your matrimonial assets, such as your finances and child support. This will make it easier for you to carry out an uncontested divorce when you wish to go through with the procedure. It should be noted however that a court may change your separation agreement if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, if it is not in the child’s best interests.

For further legal advice on divorce and separation agreements, you are advised to speak to a divorce solicitor or family law solicitor. They can answer your questions and help you to get through this difficult time.

My spouse and I are looking to divorce but are worried about the costs involved in the process, is there any help we can get on this matter?

The result of a divorce or separation is that two households will often have to exist on the same amount of money as one did previously. This is unfortunately made worse by the costs that will flow from your divorce. There are three main ways in which you can reduce on your legal costs in this procedure.

The first method would be to attempt to carry out the divorce informally, known as informal separation. If you and your partner are married, you can separate by such an informal arrangement. If you and your partner agree, you can also make arrangements about children, money, housing and other property without going to court. However, any informal arrangement made when you separate may affect future decisions if you do ever go to court. You should be aware that a court may change an arrangement you and your spouse made if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, not in their best interests.

Another method that can be employed to reduce legal costs is through what is known as a separation agreement. This is a written agreement between you and your spouse when you intend to stop living together. It sets out how you wish to sort out financial arrangements, property, and arrangements for the children. It is advisable to consult a divorce lawyer when drawing up a separation agreement, but you should work out in advance the general areas you want to cover. This will help to reduce your legal costs.

A final method that may be used in such circumstances would be for you to utilize the services of Legal Help. Legal Help allows people with a low income to get free legal advice and help from a specialist divorce solicitor or an experienced legal adviser. The solicitor or adviser must have a contract with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to be able to provide Legal Help. You should be aware that in such cases the divorce solicitor will only be able to help you with legal advice and not with the drafting or endorsement of any legal documents.