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19 Aug 2020

Family & Matrimonial

Divorce… the different stages explained

If your marriage has broken down and you’ve reached the difficult decision that there’s no way through for your relationship, you probably have a lot of questions.

We always urge anyone to think carefully about starting divorce proceedings. This is a huge, emotional decision so you need to be absolutely certain that you are doing the right thing. However, when your mind is made up, it’s helpful to know what the process involves as it is likely that you have never have had to consider it until now.

There are set steps to follow when getting a divorce and you can attempt to manage the process yourself, but it is advisable to contact a specialist divorce lawyer, especially if there are children involved or any complications, such as your partner not agreeing to the divorce.

We’ve outlined the main stages of divorce proceedings here, so that you have some idea of what to expect, but a solicitor will be able to answer any questions you may have and give advice on which options are best for you.

Before getting started, there are some things you’ll need to know.

Firstly, anyone 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.

Secondly, as well as the emotional impact of divorce on all involved, there will also be a lot of different practical things to consider, from the arrangements for looking after your children, if you have them, and child maintenance payments, to how you will divide your money and property. It is worth thinking through all of this before taking the first step.

Stage One – Filing a divorce petition

In order to start divorce proceedings, a petition will be prepared and filed at Court.

For the petition, 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).

When submitting your divorce petition, you will need to provide the court with your marriage certificate. You’ll also need to state how you intend to deal with arrangements for looking after your children and any arrangements you’ve made for your finances.

Most divorce proceedings proceed on an undefended basis.

 Stage Two – Acknowledgment of service

The next stage involves the court sending a copy of the divorce petition form to your spouse. They will need to complete and return the acknowledgement of service form within 7 days. This confirms that they have received the papers, are happy with the reasons for the divorce and the wording used, and will give them the opportunity to state whether they agree to the divorce or wish to contest it.

Stage Three – Decree Nisi

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 (the first decree). This basically means that the court can see no reason why your divorce can’t go ahead.

Once you have a pronouncement date, you can apply for your Decree Absolute (final decree) six weeks and one day after this date.

Stage Four – Application for Decree Absolute

This is the final step in the divorce process. The Decree Absolute is the final decree and is what legally finalises your divorce.

An application for the decree absolute typically takes two weeks. When this comes through, formally and legally ends your marriage.

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.

 Some common questions….

Now that you understand the stages involved in obtaining a divorce, you may still have some unanswered questions. We’ve tried to answer the most common ones below but there is no substitute for talking directly to a specialist divorce lawyer who has years of experience of dealing with cases just like yours.

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: 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 does a divorce 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 or email hello@hardingevans.com.

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