Once you have decided that you want to divorce and that you have the grounds to do so, how do you go about it? How do you make it official?
The divorce process officially begins with the submission of the first document to the court: the petition. The petitioner is whichever spouse files for divorce with this document. The filing of the petition itself consists of completing an official form in triplicate – one copy for you, one for the court and the third for the other party. The forms are then submitted to the relevant county court. The court issues a copy to the respondent, the other spouse.
The petition must contain the reason for filing a divorce. The legally recognized grounds for divorce fall under any of these five categories:
1) the petitioner’s spouse has not acted in the manner expected of him/her, behaving unreasonably;
2) the respondent has committed adultery;
3) either party has been deserted for two years or more;
4) the couple has been separated for 2 years and have mutually agreed to file for a divorce;
5) the couple has been separated for 5 years.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of filing for a divorce is exposing sufficient details about the relationship and its breakdown to provide grounds for the court to grant the complete dissolution of a marriage. In completing the petition, details of what caused the marriage to break down should be clearly outlined.
If there are claims in finances or splitting of assets, complete information on these must also included in the petition. There is a form which both parties must complete if they are splitting properties, estates, and other finances. The form is a twenty-page document which should be filled up entirely to include detailed information on each of the separating spouse’s finances. This form should list salaries, other income, funds, loans, debts, annuity and other information.
The Marriage Certificate and, if there are any involved, a statement of the children’s living and schooling arrangements are submitted along with the petition for divorce. This document, the Statement of Arrangements, is perhaps the most important document on which the court will definitely check. It is in this document where the children’s present welfare, in terms of education, health and living conditions, are described. The court will also require information on the frequency of visitation of the other parent and support that is given to the children. The court will want to see that this part is carefully planned out to ensure the children’s well-being after the divorce.
Other documents such as reconciliation certificate and public funding certificate will be requested if applicable. Payment of court fees also occur at this point.
Once the petition has been received and processed by the court, a copy is sent to the respondent. The respondent then signs an acknowledgement of receipt to signify agreement to a divorce, called a Form of Acknowledgement of Service. If the respondent does not agree with the divorce and any arrangements included in it, he or she has need not sign this receipt. A copy of this acknowledgement will then be sent to the petitioner.
Upon receiving a copy of the acknowledgement of the respondent, the petitioner then files another document. This document is a Request for Directions for Trial. When filing this form an affidavit (sworn statement) must be attached to it. The petitioner will also complete a request for a decree nisi. The decree nisi is a provisional order for a divorce once the court sees fit to grant it. The court will then set a date, which is usually 6 weeks after the issuance of the decree nisi, when the petitioner can file for a decree absolute. The issuance of the decree absolute is the final order in the dissolution of a marriage and that the divorce is now finished.
The whole process from filing of the petition to the issuance of the decree absolute takes 3 to 6 months.
The point at which you decide that you want to officially file a petition for divorce is the point at which you should be thinking of turning to a solicitor for help – specifically if there are children involved or if you have significant joint assets. Like any aspect of the law, a petition to divorce can be an involved procedure, and it pays to have an expert on your side.
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.