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Getting a Divorce: First Steps to Take

View profile for Sian Roberts
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You’ve got your reasons; you’ve made up your mind – but what happens next? When you’ve made the decision to seek a divorce, the path ahead can feel incredibly daunting. We’ve put together a quick guide on what to expect from divorce proceedings, and how to get the ball rolling.

First things first: can you legally get a divorce?

Under UK law, there are two crucial legal requirements that you must satisfy in order to ask for a divorce. Firstly, you must have been married for at least one whole year before you can apply. The other requirement is that you are able to cite one of five possible grounds for divorce. These are:

  • Adultery – if your partner has had sex with someone of the opposite sex (you may not be able to use this as a reason if you continued to live with your spouse for 6 months after finding out about the adultery).
  • Unreasonable behaviour – your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
  • 2 years’ separation – if you have lived apart for 2 years (with agreement from your husband or wife)
  • 5 years’ separation – if you have lived apart for 5 years (you do not need agreement from your husband or wife)
  • Desertion – If your husband or wife has left you for 2 or more years without good reason or your agreement.

Obtain a Divorce Petition

If you meet the requirements above, you will need to provide the Court with your marriage certificate and pay the court fee of £550 in order to obtain a divorce petition. If you are the one applying, you will be known as the Petitioner and your spouse as the Respondent. The Court sends the petition to the Respondent, who has the option to file an acknowledgement.

Depending on whether the Respondent acknowledges the divorce within the time limit or not, the process will be slightly different, but the next step is to apply for a ‘decree nisi’, which states the Court is satisfied that the marriage has come to an end. After a minimum of 6 weeks, you can then apply for a ‘decree absolute’, which is the final order of the Court, and formally terminates the marriage.

Get the right help

Going through a divorce is a challenging and emotional time, especially if there are children involved. Seeking the right kind of help early on, and instructing an experienced family solicitor can make the process a lot easier. Your solicitor can talk you through the divorce process, the options you have and what your rights are. They will also explain the rights of your partner. If you and your partner are on fairly good terms, it may be possible to sort a lot of things out yourselves, but it is still a good idea to have a meeting with a professional to help you determine the best course of action.

It is important to get a solicitor as soon as possible if the custody of children is currently, or is likely to be, an issue. If you are vulnerable in the divorce e.g. at risk of domestic violence, or facing having nowhere to live, you should seek legal advice urgently.

Negotiate with your partner

We understand that when a marriage has broken down, sometimes it’s not possible to communicate for a variety of reasons. However, if you are in a position where you are able to calmly negotiate with your partner, it’s a good idea to agree on as much as you can outside of Court. The more you and your partner can agree on, the more straightforward and pain-free the divorce is likely to be. This includes everything from making child arrangements to the financial settlement.

Where to go from there

Every divorce is different, and there are different options for how to go about it. Whether or not you will need to go to Court will really depend on your individual situation, and how much you are able to agree with your partner. There are various forms of alternative dispute resolution available and you may want to consider these.

If your divorce is straightforward (i.e. you agree on everything including child arrangements, the settlement, and the reason for divorce) you can expect the process to be complete within around 6 months. However, for more complicated situations or where you cannot agree, it can take considerably longer to reach a conclusion.

For all matters concerning family law, it’s important that you have legal representation with your best interests at heart. Our experienced family solicitors understand that no two couples are the same. We provide cost effective, compassionate advice, helping you to come to the best solution for your individual circumstances. If you are considering a divorce and would like to talk through your options, get in touch with us today.