Divorce – A Family Law Guide

The Divorce Process

If you’ve made the decision to divorce, then there are several steps you’ll need to follow.

The first thing you will need to remember is the more you and your husband or wife agree about, the quicker the process will be. It is when you don’t agree about certain issues, that the divorce can take much longer.

How Divorce Works

To be eligible for a divorce, you’ll need to go through a number of steps.

These stages can take about four months if you and your spouse agree on the following:

  • the reasons you want to divorce
  • how you’ll look after children
  • how you’ll split up money, property and possessions

The Stages of a Divorce

The formal divorce process has four steps.

1. Deciding the reasons

To end your marriage, you’ll need to prove to the court the reasons are valid. These are known as ‘facts’ and ‘grounds’ for divorce.

2. File a divorce petition

One of you will need to apply to court for a divorce. You do this by filling in and sending a divorce petition’ to a court or alternatively one of our solicitors can do this for you. For more information on petitioning for divorce please click here

3. Applying for a ‘decree nisi’

If you’ve sent your petition to court and your spouse has told the court they agree, you can move to the next stage. This is applying for a ‘decree nisi’ – a document that says the court sees no reason why you can’t divorce.

4. Getting a decree absolute

The ‘decree absolute’ is the document that legally ends your marriage.

If you started the process, you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ six weeks after the court issues the decree nisi.

If your spouse started the process you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ after an additional three months. So, you would have to wait three months and six days after the decree nisi was issued before you could apply.

Once you have the decree absolute, you are officially divorced.

Things that may slow down your divorce

The court will scrutinise your plans for looking after children and deem whether they are satisfactory or not. In fact, when the court returns it’s verdict and for whatever reason, declares it not satisfactory, you’ll need to work out new plans and start the process again.

If you can’t reach an agreement on money, property and possessions, you may have to get the court to decide. A ‘financial order’ (sometimes known as an ‘ancillary relief order’) is a formal arrangement made in court. It’s a separate process and, in many cases, the formal divorce will be finalised before you complete the financial order process.

Grounds for Divorce

You can only end your marriage if it has ‘irretrievably broken down’. Indeed, you will need to prove this in the court by giving your reasons, known as ‘facts’ for divorce. Read more about the grounds for divorce here.

Showing your reasons

The process will be quicker and cheaper if you agree the ‘facts’ that you’re going to use. When you apply, you must show there are good reasons (known as supporting ‘facts’ to show ‘grounds’) for ending your marriage.

If you are the person starting the divorce process (known as the ‘petitioner’) you must decide which ‘facts’ apply to you and you want to use.

The divorce will be quicker and cheaper if you agree the ‘facts’ that you’re going to use.

On the negative side, if they don’t agree with your ‘facts’, your husband or wife can defend the divorce. If this happens, you both might have to go to a court hearing to discuss the reasons for the divorce and settle any disagreements.

There are five types of ‘facts’ that you can use in proceedings.

1. Adultery

You can use adultery as a reason for divorce if all the following apply:

  • your husband or wife has had sex with someone else of the opposite sex
  • you don’t want to carry on living together
  • you decided not to continue living together within six months of the adultery happening or you finding out about it
  • Any sexual activity that you have been forced into, whether you are a man or a woman, is not adultery as you were not willing. Rape is therefore not adultery. Adultery is sexual activity with someone else that you choose.

To prove adultery, you will need to give the court:

  • details of the adultery, for example when it happened
  • statements from you and your husband or wife
  • an admission of adultery from your husband or wife

After considering these, if your husband or wife won’t admit to adultery, you might need to talk to a solicitor about what to do next.

2. Unreasonable behaviour

If your husband or wife behaves so badly that you can’t carry on living together you can use ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as a reason for ending your marriage.

Your husband or wife could be showing unreasonable behaviour if they:

  • are physically violent to you
  • are verbally abusive to you, for example through insults or threats
  • fail to provide affection or attention
  • don’t let you leave the house
  • give you reason to believe they are having an affair

You will need to provide proof of unreasonable behaviour. If your husband or wife won’t admit to it, you may need to provide detailed evidence, like statements from friends or doctors.

3. Desertion

You can use ‘desertion’ as a reason for divorce if you can prove that your husband or wife has left you:

  • without your agreement
  • without a good reason, for a period of more than two years in the last two and a half years
  • with the aim of ‘deserting’ you (trying to end the relationship between you)

You can have lived together for up to a total of six months within this period and still claim desertion.

4. Living separately for more than two years with agreement on both sides

You can end your marriage if you and your husband or wife have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to divorce.

You can have lived together for up to a total of six months during this time if you have been apart for two years altogether.

Your husband or wife must agree in writing, so make sure you discuss it with them before starting the process.

5. Living separately for more than five years

If you and your husband or wife have lived apart for more than five years you can use this as a reason for divorce. If this has happened, you can apply without your husband or wife’s agreement.

This will usually be enough to get a divorce. But your husband or wife can object if it will cause them ‘extreme’ difficulties – usually financial.

Starting the divorce process

Once you have decided which supporting fact to use, you can start the process. You do this by filing a ‘divorce petition’ with a divorce court. To speak with one of our experienced Solicitors please fill in the enquiry form on this page and we will get back to you as soon as possible.  Indeed, please feel free, to read further about grounds for divorce and the process here.

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