Divorce in England and Wales is the process by which a marriage or civil partnership formally ends and finances, property etc., are divided. Care arrangements for children and other dependents are agreed upon, and the two parties go their separate ways once the paperwork and legalities are completed. The length and complexity of the divorce process depend entirely on the circumstances of each case. Considerations include how amicable the divorcing couple are towards each other, the grounds for divorce, or the reason for the split. Other aspects include the presence of children or dependents and the amount and type of assets that will need to be divided.
What types of divorce are there?
Under English and Welsh divorce law, either party within a marriage or civil partnership can apply for a divorce. There are various reasons, including unreasonable behaviour with which the other person is not reasonably expected to live. The other reasons include infidelity (adultery), desertion, separation of more than two years, and more than five years. In the latter case, the paperwork can go ahead even if one party does not agree to the divorce.
Where both parties agree to the split is known as an uncontested divorce and can be more straightforward to resolve. It can be done and dusted within three or four months in some cases. Both parties usually engage a family law expert or solicitor to help them navigate the divorce proceedings and supply appropriate legal advice through each of the different stages of the divorce. The person bringing the divorce petition to the court is called the petitioner, and the other party is known as the respondent.
Often, if financial and childcare arrangements can be agreed upon, along with the reason for the divorce, going to court for lengthy debates and disputes can be avoided. Family mediation services are available for couples in disagreement to work out their disputes before going to court. Legal aid may be available to pay for this type of service, plus you may be able to obtain advice around specific issues from Citizens Advice.
The stages of divorce in England and Wales
Each stage of divorce in England and Wales is a separate process that needs to be legally and correctly navigated. You will need your marriage certificate or a certified copy to set things in motion. Also, your husband, wife or civil partner’s full name and address and proof of any name change undertaken since the marriage, e.g. by deed poll. There will be a court fee to pay when you apply, but help may be available to cover this if you are on a low income.
The primary divorce process in England and Wales starts when the petitioner starts divorce proceedings by filing the petition with the court – also done online. A copy of the petition is sent to the respondent via postal or email address, along with an acknowledgement of service form that they need to complete and send back to say whether they are willing to agree to the divorce or plan to contest it.
If they fail to reply, the courts can chase them up for their response. About ten days after receiving the reply, and if the respondent agrees to the divorce going ahead, the courts will send the petitioner a form to apply for a Decree Nisi. This is the first significant stage of a divorce, and its processing takes typically around one month to complete.
The next stage is for both parties to be given a date for their Decree Nisi hearing to be heard. During the hearing, the judge will approve the granting of the Decree Nisi. They will also address and decide upon any financial settlement or custodial issues that have arisen to help the divorce progress as intended. Neither party is usually obliged to attend this hearing in person, and many choose not to if the application is straightforward. If the respondent plans to defend the divorce, you can still apply for the Decree Nisi, but you will both have to go to court in person to resolve your situation before paperwork can be released.
Six weeks after being granted the Decree Nisi, the petitioner is entitled to apply for the Decree Absolute is the final process of divorce in England and Wales. It is processed reasonably quickly as most if not all details around any childcare agreements or financial claim requests should have already been resolved. This part of the paper concludes the process and formally ends the marriage or civil partnership.
Should a divorce petition be refused by the courts, you will receive a notice of refusal judge’s certificate form giving the reasons for declining the application. It could be that the judge requires more information. Your solicitor will help you work out what to do next.