The current lockdown has meant many different things to many different people.
Those who are lucky enough not to have been affected by the virus have been given a rare opportunity to spend time at home with their families and, if our social media feeds are to be believed, for many, this has meant a wonderful chance to reconnect with their partner and children, embrace the joys of homeschooling and delight in living in a blissful bubble.
But can we really believe the hype? This certainly won’t have been the case for everyone.
With stories already surfacing from China that divorce rates have hit an all-time high as couples emerge from the lockdown, surely we can expect the same to happen here in the UK?
The sad reality is that every year after the Christmas break, we receive more instructions to start divorce proceedings than at any other time of the year. For many people, the true experience of having to spend so much time at home with their families is far from the rose-tinted picture so often depicted on the likes of Facebook and Instagram.
We know that the stresses of the enforced lockdown will have led to misery for many people, forcing them to re-evaluate their marriages and realise that this is not the life that they want.
We would urge anyone to think carefully about starting divorce proceedings at this time of great stress and uncertainty. The past few weeks have been further away from normality than most of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes. But if the lockdown has made you see that there really is no way through for your marriage and you would like to speak to someone to explore your options, we have pulled together this list of common questions along with our answers, to help make things a bit clearer at this difficult time.
Q: Can anyone get divorced?
A: You can get divorced in England and Wales if you have been married for over a year, you can prove that your relationship has permanently broken down, your marriage is legally recognised in the UK and the UK is your permanent home, or the permanent home of your spouse.
Q: How do I prove that my relationship has permanently broken down?
A: When you apply for a divorce, you will need to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down by setting out particulars relating to one of the following grounds; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for the last two years (you will need your spouse’s agreement to divorce in this case) or separation for the last five years (you do not need your spouse’s agreement).
Q: What do I need to consider before applying for a divorce?
A: Obviously, this is a huge, emotional decision so you need to be absolutely certain that you are doing the right thing. There will be a lot of different practical things to consider. You’ll need to think about arrangements for looking after your children, if you have them, child maintenance payments as well as how you will divide your money and property.
Q: How do I start divorce proceedings?
A: There are set steps to follow when getting a divorce and whilst you can attempt to manage the process yourself, it’s usually best to contact a specialist divorce lawyer, especially if there are children involved or any complications, such as your partner not agreeing to the divorce.
Q: How long does it take to get a divorce?
A: This can vary considerably. If there are no financial arrangements for children to consider and if your spouse fully cooperates in the process, it may be possible to obtain a divorce within four to five months.
However, If there are financial issues and these cannot be resolved by agreement, an application to Court for Financial Remedy may be required. This would run alongside an application for divorce and although straightforward Financial Remedy applications may be resolved within approximately six months, it is not unusual for more complex applications to continue for up to twelve months or, in very unusual cases, even longer.
Q: What is the actual process I’ll need to go through?
A: In order to start divorce proceedings, a petition will be prepared and filed at Court. Most divorce proceedings proceed on an undefended basis. Once your spouse has acknowledged your divorce petition, you will need to prepare a Statement in Support to proceed, which will then lead to pronouncement of a Decree Nisi. Six weeks and one day after this, you may apply for your Decree Absolute.
Occasionally, there are financial reasons to delay an application for the Decree Absolute, and these would need to be carefully considered.
In terms of financial issues and any arrangements for children, these may be dealt with by agreement by using a local mediation service, or in the absence of an agreement, via an application to Court to request that the Court determines the distribution of matrimonial assets and also the arrangements for children.
Q: Do I have to disclose my personal financial information?
A: If you or your spouse are in absolute agreement in relation to the financial arrangements relating to your divorce, you may wish to avoid exchanging personal financial information, in order to minimise costs. However, this is in an important and recommended part of the process, so that both parties enter into a financial agreement with full knowledge of the other’s financial circumstances. In addition, if an application for Financial Remedy is made to the Court, there will always be a requirement that financial documentation is provided.
Q: How much will this cost?
A: If you are a Petitioner, you may pursue a claim for costs relating to your divorce from your spouse. and costs orders are generally made in such circumstances. In Financial Remedy and Children Proceedings, it is usually the case that each party meets their own legal costs but in certain circumstances, Courts will make cost orders against the other party.
Q: Are there any other immediate issues to consider?
A: If you decide to divorce, you should seek advice about preparing a Will and also think about any properties that you and your spouse own. You should also consider re-nominating any pension benefits and protecting your interest in relation to any properties that are owned by your spouse, but not by you.
Harding Evans is one of Wales’ top 10 law firms and has a specialist team of matrimonial and family lawyers who have years of experience in dealing with a wide variety of divorce cases. If you would like to speak to one of the team, please give us a call on 01633 760678. Although our offices are currently closed, we are still operating very effectively and can answer any queries you may have, quickly and in confidence.