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Thinking about getting divorced? Separated and considering your next move? Part way through the process and need some guidance? We understand that getting divorced is about so much more than sorting out the paperwork to bring your marriage to an end. It is about your home, your family, your choices, your future.
We support our clients throughout the process and are unashamedly on your side. Right from the start, we will work with you to identify the key issues and the best way to resolve them.
Ending Your Marriage
Once you have been married for one year, you can get a divorce by showing that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is ‘proved’ by basing the application upon one of five ‘facts’:
- Two years’ separation, plus the consent of both parties
- Five years’ separation (consent not required)
There are currently plans to introduce ‘no fault’ divorce but these have not yet come to fruition.
Obtaining a divorce is a relatively straightforward process. Although the court has to grant the divorce, only a tiny minority of couples will actually need to appear in front of a judge in relation to this aspect of their case.
Our divorce solicitors are committed to establishing a close working relationship with you, your advisors and supporters. We are realists and will never build unachievable expectations only to let you down.
Over the years, we have forged strong relationships with other professionals that you may need to work with, including the very best therapists, wealth planners, tax advisors and accountants, so that we can build a great team around you.
There may be reasons why a marriage is either void or voidable. In this instance, the parties need to apply for a decree of nullity (sometimes called an annulment), rather than a divorce.
A marriage is void if it was legally flawed from the start, for example, if one or both parties were underage or were already married to another person. A marriage is voidable if there is a reason entitling either party to apply for an annulment, for example, if it was a forced marriage or if the marriage has not been consummated.
Nullity proceedings can be started at any point, including in the first year of marriage. However, the grounds for obtaining an annulment are complex and technically specific, so it is absolutely crucial to get early advice from a solicitor with experience in this area, especially if there is an international dimension.
If you have a religious or other objection to divorce, it is possible to obtain a decree of judicial separation instead. Applications for judicial separation are unusual and legal advice should be sought, as the financial and legal implications of judicial separation differ from those associated with divorce in important aspects.
If you have children, it is important to establish workable, child-focused arrangements for them after separation. We will help you assess what steps you need to take to make this happen. For more information, visit our Children section.
We will put our expertise and resources at your disposal to achieve the best possible resolution of the financial aspects of your divorce. For more detail, visit our Money section.
Jurisdiction and International Families
If you or your spouse has links with one or more territories outside England and Wales, there may be a choice as to which country’s courts should deal with the divorce. In that event, it’s essential that you act urgently to take our advice so that we can guide you to secure the most favourable jurisdiction for your case.
The law in relation to divorce, particularly the financial aspects, differs greatly from country to country and can have a big impact on the outcome. We have close links with solicitors across the world and can work with them to ensure you have clear and decisive advice to enable you to conclude how best to proceed. Visit our jurisdiction page for more information.
Does the reason for the divorce have any effect on the financial settlement?
In all but the most extreme cases, the reasons for your divorce will have no effect on the financial outcome. Although the divorce petition may have been based on one party’s fault, for example, their adultery or behaviour, money is dealt with on a largely ‘no fault’ basis. There are exceptions in circumstances where misconduct has been very extreme or has led to an objectively significant financial consequence.
I have been served with divorce papers. What should I do next?
There are time limits for responding to a divorce petition, which should be complied with. In some cases - for example, if there is a choice of jurisdictions in which the divorce could take place, these time limits can be crucially important. If you have received divorce papers, get in touch with JMW and we will work with you to identify the next steps.
What is a decree nisi?
This is the first of two decrees (a kind of court order) in the proceedings. In most cases, after the divorce petition has been sent to the other party, they will acknowledge receipt of the decree nisi and allow the divorce to proceed on an uncontested basis.
The person who began the divorce proceedings (the petitioner) confirms the contents of the petition and sends a form asking the court to grant the decree nisi. There is a more complex procedure for the handful of cases each year in which the divorce itself is contested.
Provided all the paperwork is in order and no technical problems are identified, the court will set a date for ‘pronouncing’ the decree nisi, which just means reading it out in court. Neither party has to be present for this unless there is a dispute about costs.
Once decree nisi has been granted, the court has the power to make a financial order dealing with the money, whether this has been reached by agreement or following a contested court process.
What is a decree absolute?
This is the second of two decrees (a kind of court order). Once the decree nisi has been pronounced, the person who began the divorce proceedings (the petitioner) can apply for the decree absolute six weeks and one day later.
In most cases, clients will be advised to delay applying for decree absolute until a final order dealing with the financial aspects of the divorce has been approved and stamped by the court.
Once the decree absolute has been granted, the marriage comes to an end and the parties are said to be ‘divorced’.
Do I have to go to court to get a divorce?
Only the court can grant divorces; however, in reality, the divorce process takes place either online or by paperwork passing between the parties and the court. Only a tiny minority of cases need substantive input from a judge and very few couples actually have to attend court to deal with the divorce itself.
Can I reach a financial settlement without a divorce?
You can agree the financial aspects of separation without getting divorced using a separation agreement but the only way to get a final and binding settlement is to obtain a financial court order after the decree nisi has been granted within the divorce proceedings. This financial order can either be agreed by the parties or decided by a judge after a contested court process.
The court order must be approved and stamped by a judge otherwise it is not valid. It then becomes legally binding at the point of decree absolute, the final decree in the proceedings, after which, the parties are said to be ‘divorced’.
How long does a divorce or civil partnership dissolution take?
We normally anticipate that the procedure from petition to decree absolute will take between four and six months. In most cases, clients are advised to delay their decree absolute until a financial order has been approved and stamped by the court. As financial negotiations and/or contested proceedings can take some time, particularly if a case is complex, this can mean that the divorce takes longer.
Are divorce records public?
The decree absolute - the final decree in the process, which actually brings the marriage to an end - is accessible to any member of the public, including the parties themselves. The decree absolute records various details, including the parties’ full names, the date and place of their marriage ceremony and the date of the decree absolute. Documents showing the fact on which the divorce is based and further details, such as allegations of unreasonable behaviour, are not generally available.
If you have lost your decree absolute and need to obtain an official copy, there are various ways of getting what you need, depending on what information you have. The best starting place is the government website.
Can a divorce be reversed?
In general, if a couple has been through divorce proceedings and obtained a decree absolute, this cannot be reversed. The only way they can become married again is to have another official wedding ceremony.
If decree absolute has not yet been granted and the parties wish to halt the divorce process because they have reconciled, they can do so. There are various procedures, depending on what stage has been reached. If a decree nisi has been granted, a particular application will need to be made to the court.
There are a tiny handful of cases in which the court can set aside (cancel, overturn) a decree nisi, and even a decree absolute for other reasons. This includes cases where orders have been obtained by fraud, where there are doubts over the existence of the marriage in the first place or an argument that the marriage has already been brought to an end in another country.
These cases require highly specialised advice as the financial consequences of getting things wrong can be substantial. If there may be an issue as to which country’s courts should deal with your divorce and any related financial proceedings, visit our page on divorce and jurisdiction for further information.
Can a divorce petition be withdrawn?
It depends on what stage in the divorce process has been reached and the reasons for withdrawing the petition.
If a person has started divorce proceedings and simply changed their mind, they can stop the process up to the point of decree nisi. However, to ensure clarity for everyone involved, it would be sensible to take legal advice in order to make sure that all the correct steps have been taken. This would avoid any future doubt over either party’s marital status.
Couples who have got back together after a decree nisi has been granted can apply to “rescind” or undo the decree. If a decree absolute has been granted then it is not possible to undo it, unless there has been a serious legal problem with the original process.
If someone has sent a divorce petition to court and wishes to change its contents, rather than halt the proceedings altogether, they can do so, provided no application for a decree nisi has been made. The petitioner may or may not need the permission of the court to do this, depending on what steps in the proceedings have been taken by their spouse.
What is a co-respondent?
Where the divorce is based on adultery, the person starting the divorce proceedings (the petitioner) technically has to “prove” that the person against whom the allegation is made (the respondent) has actually had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex. That other person is known as a “co-respondent”.
Nowadays, proof of adultery is almost always obtained by the respondent completing the relevant section of the acknowledgement of service, without the “other person” being named in the paperwork. The co-respondent will be listed as “Unnamed Man/Woman”.
In the past, the co-respondent was routinely named and the divorce papers were served upon them so that the allegation could be put to them formally. However, this practice became less and less common and the position now is that the Family Procedure Rules actively discourage petitioners from naming a co-respondent, unless they believe that the divorce will be contested. However, due to the practical difficulty of proving adultery in a contested case, it is much more sensible to initiate divorce proceedings based on an alternative fact, such as the respondent’s behaviour. For this reason, divorce petitions with a named co-respondent are almost unheard of today.
Can I recover divorce costs?
If your divorce is based on one of the fault ‘facts’ (i.e. adultery, behaviour or desertion), you can claim the legal costs associated with the actual divorce, including the court fee. It makes sense for the petitioner and the respondent to agree a figure for costs because it is disproportionate to ask the court to make a decision on this relatively modest amount of costs.
The claim for costs within the divorce petition can only include those associated with preparing and progressing the divorce itself. If the divorce is based upon separation, the parties generally pay their own costs.
Legal costs incurred dealing with other issues, such as finances and child arrangements, are completely separate and the general rule is that each party pays their own costs. Even if the divorce is based on “fault”, it is only in the most extreme cases that this will have any impact on financial matters and/or child arrangements. For more information about the way in which either party’s “conduct” will be dealt with, read our article on the topic.