The divorce rate may be running at its lowest since 1974; however, it is still an unhappy statistical fact that four out of every ten marriages in England and Wales are likely to end in divorce. The figure may seem high; but if you and your spouse have come to the conclusion that divorce is what is right for you both, then this dark cloud does have a somewhat silver lining: the divorce procedure in England and Wales is now fairly streamlined and, provided the divorce is not a contested one, can be painless.
So, if you and your partner have looked over all of the available options and divorce seems more practical than trying to reconcile the relationship, the following are the steps in the divorce process of which you will need to be aware:
Initially, you will need to prove that you have grounds for a divorce. This is a two-fold test which must be satisfied before you can proceed with filing your petition to divorce with the relevant county court.
The first aspect is one of time limitation: in England and Wales, unless you have been married for more than one year, you may not submit a petition to divorce.
Assuming that you have been married for a period of over one year, you then need to prove the occurrence of one of the following five “irretrievable breakdowns”:
1) adultery; or
2) unreasonable behaviour; or
3) desertion – for a period of no less than two years; or
4) lived apart for at least two years (consented); or
5) lived apart for at least five years (contested).
Assuming, then, that you have satisfied both of these criteria and that you therefore have the requisite grounds for divorce, the next step is to proceed with the filing of the petition to divorce.
It is at this stage you’ll need to think about choosing a divorce solicitor. Divorce in England and Wales need not be an onerous matter: in most cases, the emotional turmoil means that the parties have already agreed that divorce is the only option left to them. However, you will still need to speak with a solicitor if there are children involved or if you have significant joint assets.
At Brendan Fleming Solicitors, we pride ourselves in our expertise in the area of family law, one facet of which is the handling of divorce and separation. Based in Birmingham, our practice extends over the entire Midlands area: Wolverhampton, Coventry; even so far afield as Derby and Nottingham. Our divorce team is led by Annette Woodall, a member of Resolution (formerly the Solicitor’s Family Law Association), who has a wide experience in all matters relating to family breakdown, particularly in respect of financial matters. This includes dealing with high net financial claims, often involving substantial assets and pension issues. She has a firm and practical approach to achieving high levels of settlement and client satisfaction.
The filing of the petition itself consists of completing an official in triplicate – one copy for you, one for the court and the third for the other party. These forms are then submitted to the relevant county court.
Upon receipt of the petition, the county court will send a notification to your spouse, informing them that a divorce petition has been submitted; you, in turn will be sent evidence of this. Provided they consent to the divorce, your spouse has eight days to return an acknowledgement of the notification to the county court. Thereafter you will need to file a Request for Directions for Trial, along with a divorce affidavit (sworn statement).
Upon receipt of your request, it is then up to a judge to decide if you have requisite grounds for divorce and, if so, will issue what is known as a decree nisi. At this point you are still legally married – a decree nisi (from the Latin nisi, meaning “unless”) is a court order that does not have any force until a particular condition has been met, such as a subsequent petition to the court or the passage of a specified period of time. Once the decree nisi has been granted you’ll be issued a form directing you of when to apply for the decree absolute. Ordinarily this waiting period is 6 weeks and 1 day, after which time you can make your application. Shortly thereafter the decree absolute should be issued. The decree absolute is a binding court order; and at this point you are legally divorced.