Divorce and Family Law – Answering your Questions

Getting divorced is a journey. It can be stressful, expensive and difficult for any children involved. However, by arming yourself with the answers to some of the most common divorce questions, you can hopefully help make the separation process that little bit easier.

How to get a divorce

For those who are eligible to get a divorce in the UK, the process in England and Wales is as follows:

    1. Fill in a petition: The form in which you provide your personal details and those of your spouse (including current address), asking the court to legally dissolve your marriage.
    2. State grounds for divorce: Either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent or five years separation without consent. This approach of allocating fault to one of the partners is in the process of being changed, but is not yet the law.
    3. Submit the petition: This needs to be submitted alongside either the original marriage certificate or a certified copy from the local registrar. You will have to pay a £550 court fee. You can also apply online through the Gov.UK website
    4. Receipt of the petition: Once the court has received and checked the divorce application, it will send copies of the petition to you, your spouse and, if relevant, the named adulterer (co-respondent).
    5. Acknowledgement of Service: The respondent confirms whether they agree with the divorce or are going to defend the divorce. The court then sends a signed copy of this to the petitioner.
    6. Decree nisi: If your spouse agrees with the petition, or no ‘answer to divorce’ form is submitted within 28 days, you may then apply for a decree nisi. The court will set a nisi pronouncement date, which allows you to move towards the next and final step.
    7. Decree absolute: After six weeks following receipt of the decree nisi, you can apply for a decree absolute to officially end the marriage and obtain divorce.

Can I get divorced in the UK?

To get a divorce in England or Wales you must meet the following criteria:

  1. your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK
  2. you must have been married for at least a year
  3. you or your spouse must have a permanent home in the UK
  4. you must be able demonstrate that your marriage has irretrievably broken down

How much does a divorce cost?

The court fee for divorce is £550, but there are other costs associated with a divorce including emotional and stress-related expenditure. It is very difficult to estimate how much divorce is going to cost in total, however, the Money Advice Service reports the average cost of a divorce in the UK is around £14,500. Wellers approximate fees are as follows:

  • Divorce, petitioner: £1,500 – £2,000 plus VAT plus court fee of £550
  • Protracted divorce: Estimate £3,000 – £5,000 plus VAT plus disbursements

Further details of Wellers’ fees in relation to divorce and financial settlements can be found on our Cost of Divorce page.

How long will it take to get divorced in the UK?

Getting a divorce in England or Wales can take as little as three to four months. However, delays to the process are common, so it is more likely to take between five and six months. In some cases, it may take up to 12 months to receive the decree absolute and even longer if your spouse defends the divorce.

What are the five facts in divorce?

Although the law is due to change to allow for ‘no fault’ divorce, as it stands you must demonstrate one of five facts in order to be granted a divorce in England and Wales. These are:

  1. Unreasonable behaviour
  2. Adultery
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation for two years (if both parties agree to the divorce)
  5. Separation for five years (if the respondent does not agree to the divorce

These are also commonly known as the grounds for divorce (see below).

What are the grounds for divorce?

There are five grounds for divorce that can prove your marriage has broken down. These are as follows:

  1. Adultery: Your spouse had sexual relations with another person of the opposite sex to themselves and you have not lived as a couple for six or more months since discovering the infidelity
  2. Unreasonable behaviour: Examples of this include violence, abuse, drunkenness or drug-taking.
  3. Desertion: Examples of this include your spouse leaving you without your agreement or ending your relationship.
  4. Separation for more than 2 years (including living together but not as a couple): If you both agree to the divorce.
  5. Separation for more than 5 years: If one party does not agree to the divorce, you can still apply to the court if you have been separated or lived apart for five years.

How to get a divorce in the UK

The divorce processes are different for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The processes in each jurisdiction are as follows:

  • Scotland: You can either apply for a simplified divorce (also known as do-it-yourself divorce) at the Sheriff Court for a £125 fee or you can apply for an ordinary divorce. A series of verifying questions will help you understand which type of divorce you will need to apply for. In Scotland the person seeking the divorce is known as the ‘pursuer’ and the person responding to the divorce is known as the ‘defender’.
  • Northern Ireland: To begin divorce proceedings, a petition must be lodged with the Matrimonial Office – this costs £237. Unlike in England and Wales, you must be married for two years in order to get divorced in N Ireland.
  • England and Wales: The process begins by filing a petition form and paying a £550 fee. The respondent then has to respond to an ‘Acknowledgement of Service”.

What is a divorce petition?

A divorce petition is the divorce application (Form D8) used to initiate a divorce. As the petitioner you are required to send three copies of form D8 to your nearest divorce centre (details can be found on www.gov.uk) – four copies if you have named someone your husband or wife committed adultery with.

What is family law?

Family law covers all the important issues relating to children and family relationships. The areas of family law that most commonly come before the family law courts include the following:

  • Adoption
  • Child arrangements following divorce or separation
  • Civil partnership dissolution
  • Cohabitation agreement disputes
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Financial settlements on divorce
  • Guardianship
  • Pre- and post- nuptial agreements in relation to divorce financial settlements
  • Separation disputes

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation is the act of living together as a couple but without the legal rights conferred by a marriage or civil partnership. However, it is possible to formalise aspects of your relationship by drawing up a ‘cohabitation contract’, although there are questions about whether these are legally enforceable.

What is a pre-nup?

A prenuptial agreement (also known as a PNA, pre-marital agreement or ante-nuptial agreement) is a formal agreement reached between two parties before their marriage or civil partnership. It outlines how their finances will be divided in the event that their marriage or civil partnership breaks down. Although not legally binding in England and Wales, courts may take pre-nups into account when considering divorce financial settlements under the following circumstances,:

  • The PNA was freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of the implications
  • It cannot be considered as unfair to hold the parties to their agreement
  • Both parties obtained independent legal advice prior to signing the agreement.
  • The agreement was entered into within a reasonable timeframe before the date of the marriage

A marital property agreement can be drawn up at any time following a marriage, but, again, a court is not obliged to enforce such an agreement.

How does divorce affect children?

Protecting the best interests of any children involved should be of paramount concern during any divorce or separation. Parents can help achieve this by doing the following:

  • Being discrete: Protect children from difficult conversations that increase feelings of anxiety or uncertainty.
  • Avoiding blame: Cycles of recrimination are only likely to damage children.
  • Showing love: Show children love and remind them they are also loved by your ex-spouse or partner. Remind them they are not to blame.
  • Maintaining routines: Keep children in school and maintain their normal extra-curricular activities.
  • Listening: It is important that your child’s feelings are listened to and acknowledged.
  • Being honest: Don’t share bitter or accusatory feelings regarding your partner, but be honest about your intentions and the details of the divorce process.
  • Agree with your ex-partner: Agree that your child’s needs are paramount and to take a mature approach to their welfare.
  • Model mature behaviour: If you model mature behaviour throughout the process you can help set an important template for children’s future behaviour under stress.

How to tell children about divorce

Telling your children that you are getting divorced is never going to be easy. However, according to Relate, you can make the situation easier for them by doing the following:

  • Avoid blame
  • Avoid giving them disturbing details – i.e. information about affairs, etc.
  • Use simple language
  • Acknowledge their feelings
  • Reassure them that they are loved
  • Explain things from their point-of-view
  • Be honest that you don’t have all the answers
  • Be clear about what the process will entail and how long it might take
  • Tell them in familiar surroundings
  • If possible, tell them together with your ex-partner

How to choose a divorce solicitor

It is not always necessary to choose a family law firm that is close to you geographically, but it may help if you are going to need to attend meetings with your divorce solicitors. More importantly, choose a firm that can provide a clear idea of the likely breakdown of costs, and a divorce solicitor you feel comfortable working with. Most firms will provide an initial meeting to discuss your circumstances, so make a list of any questions you have and be sure to take along any information they request of you. You should also choose a firm that has Family Law accreditation with The Law Society.

Wellers Law Group Divorce Solicitors

The Law Society accredited divorce solicitors at Wellers Law Group can provide you with advice, guidance and practical legal support throughout the process of separation, divorce and the division of financial assets.

We provide a flexible and tailored approach. This means we can assist you with all documentation and represent you at Court or we can provide you with ad hoc advice as and when you require it.

Our Family Law department is made up of men and women from a variety of backgrounds and we are confident that we have a specialist on our team suited to your needs and circumstances.

Please call our Family Law solicitors for help or advice on 020 8464 4242 for our Bromley team, 01732 457575 for Sevenoaks, 020 7481 6393 for Central London or 01372 750100 for our Surrey team. Alternatively email your enquiry to familylaw@wellerslawgroup.com. We offer a fixed fee, no-obligation one-hour interview so that we may provide you with initial advice and suggest the options for your next course of action.