Last week it was widely reported in the media that the Blackadder star, Rowan Atkinson, worth an estimated £70 million, was granted a “quickie” divorce in 65 seconds from wife Sunetra after 24 years of marriage at London’s Central Family Court on grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.
There have been a string of quickie celebrity divorces reported in recent years, Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Beatles star Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills and X-Factor judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and England defender Ashley Cole.
So what is a quickie divorce and is it reserved for the rich and famous?
Unfortunately the media are perpetuating a family law myth; there is no such thing as a quickie divorce. Whilst no two divorces are identical and some are quicker than others, broadly speaking the process is the same and there are no celebrity shortcuts!
Divorce Procedure in England & Wales
There is only one ground for divorce and it’s not unreasonable behaviour as reported above, it is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”, which is demonstrated by one of 5 facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years’ separation with consent
- Five years’ separation without consent
One party known as the ‘Petitioner’ issues a Divorce Petition with the Court. The Court will then send a copy of the petition to the other party, known as the ‘Respondent’, accompanied by an Acknowledgement of Service form which they are required to complete and return to the Court.
Once received, the Court will send a copy of the Respondent’s acknowledgement to the Petitioner, who is then able to file an application for Decree Nisi with the Court. If the Court is satisfied that the Petitioner has sufficiently proven the contents of their petition and the Respondent does not wish to defend the proceedings, they will certify the Petitioner’s entitlement to a divorce and the matter will be listed for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing. If one party doesn’t agree to the divorce, you can still apply for a Decree Nisi but the Court will list the matter for a hearing where a Judge will decide whether to grant you a Decree Nisi.
This is not the final decree and the marriage is not dissolved until the Decree Absolute is granted. The Petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute six weeks and one day from the date of Decree Nisi, but it is common to delay making the application until a financial settlement has been reached. There is no way of circumventing this process whether you’re Cheryl Fernandez Versini or Joe Bloggs!
So why are the media talking about a ‘quickie divorce’?
The suggestion that the Atkinson’s were divorced in 65 seconds is incorrect – what the media are actually referring to is the length of time it takes a Judge to pronounce the Decree Nisi. When the Court lists the matter for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing as referred to above, it will also list around 20-30 cases at the same time. A Judge such as District Judge Alderson in the Atkinson’s case, will pronounce the Decree Nisi’s in open Court – which is where the media lay in waiting for a juicy celebrity story.
Neither party is required to attend Court on this date as it is standard practice that the Decree Nisi is pronounced in the absence of the parties, which is why Mr and Mrs Atkinson were not in attendance. The only reason you would want to attend this hearing would be to make representations about costs if they were not agreed.
So how long does divorce actually take?
If everything proceeds smoothly divorce could take as little as 4-6 months, but in most cases it can take 6-12 months for the parties to reach a financial settlement. Delays are often seen in exchanging disclosure, protracted negotiations or due to one party issuing Court proceedings.
What can I do to speed things up?
Whilst you cannot circumvent the divorce process you can avoid the type of delays mentioned above by following these 3 steps:
- Obtain legal advice early on – if you’re thinking about divorcing it can be a daunting experience accompanied by anxiety about what the future holds. A good divorce lawyer can advise you as to the settlement options open to you in your case and which is likely to have the best result for you.
- Talk to your spouse – if you can agree at the outset who will be the Petitioner and Respondent and the content of the petition, including the fact to be relied upon and who will pay the divorce costs, proceedings will be issued more quickly. Similarly, if you are able to agree financial matters between you it will save time and money, but this should not be at any cost – which is why I suggest obtaining legal advice first. Even if you do reach agreement, it is important that you instruct a solicitor to embody your agreement into a Consent Order within divorce proceedings to be submitted to the Court for approval.
- Get your house in order – the Petitioner will need to provide their original marriage certificate to the Court, if you can’t find it apply for a certified copy from the Registry. To achieve resolution of financial matters, your Solicitor will need to identify the matrimonial assets available for division before advising as to how they should be divided. You can assist by collating information about your respective financial positions for e.g. 12 months’ bank statements, mortgage redemption statements, property valuations, cash equivalent transfer values for pensions etc.
If you are thinking about divorce or any family law matter please do not hesitate to contact me on 0343 507 5151. The Family and Matrimonial team at Gorvins can advise you as to the likely length of proceedings and the best way to protect your interests on divorce. If you prefer, you can send an email addressed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.