Whilst the latest divorce reforms mean that process is now more straightforward in some respects, it does not necessarily make it less daunting. Even if it is mutual, coming to the decision that your marriage or civil partnership has ended can be distressing and ideally, divorce is not something you should handle without seeking legal advice. For example, the new divorce laws, whilst welcome, haven’t changed the process of dealing with the finances and arrangements for children. It is essential that you fully understand your legal rights and the implications of ending your marriage or civil partnership.
This post is designed to give some basic information on getting a divorce in the UK and the steps you need to take. You can also read our previous article, which discussed the changes to the reforms – No Fault Divorce Ends Blame Game
STEP 1 – STARTING THE DIVORCE APPLICATION.
To start the divorce process, you must complete your divorce application to the court, either online, via the updated divorce portal, or by post. Completing the application online will usually help speed up the process. One of the most significant changes to the divorce laws is that you do not need to provide a reason why you want to get divorced. Instead, you supply a statement saying your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You will need to supply information such as:
Your full name and address
Your spouse’s full name and address
Proof of your marriage certificate
If you are applying by yourself, you will be called the applicant, and your spouse will be the respondent. However, it is now possible to jointly make the divorce application with your spouse, in which case, you will both be known as joint applicants.
Currently, the application fee to the court for a divorce or to end a civil partnership is £593.
STEP 2 – THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF SERVICE.
The acknowledgement of service of the proceedings differs slightly depending on whether you apply for divorce on your own or jointly with your spouse. If you apply for the divorce yourself – sole application – the court will send a copy of the petition to the other spouse and ask them to complete an acknowledgement of service. The court does not need to send the application to the other spouse with a joint application. Instead, you’ll both be sent an ‘acknowledgement of service’ receipt to confirm that your application is being processed. It will then move automatically to the next stage of the divorce process.
Under a sole application, the respondent will have 14 days to return the completed form confirming they have received the proceedings and saying whether they agree to the divorce. The form requires the respondent to state if they intend to defend the application, if any claim for legal costs is disputed and if orders affecting any children are sought. It is worth noting that it is no longer possible to contest a divorce; it can only be disputed for very limited and specific legal reasons. A spouse can no longer hold up a divorce application simply because they do not agree to the divorce.
Once the court receives the completed acknowledgement of service form, they will process your divorce application.
STEP 3 –THE REFLECTION PERIOD AND APPLYING FOR THE CONDITIONAL ORDER.
Reflection period – Before applying for a conditional order (previously known as the “Decree Nisi”), your divorce application enters a 20-week ‘reflection’ period before you can move on to the next stage. It is intended to help you and your spouse agree on how to split your finances, make arrangements regarding your children, and reflect on your decision to divorce. Once 20 weeks have passed, even if you have not been able to agree on specific arrangements, and if you still wish to proceed, you can apply for a conditional order.
Conditional order application – You can apply for the conditional order online, or through the post by filling out a Form D84.
Certificate of Entitlement – Provided you have completed the forms correctly, the court will send you and your spouse a Certificate of Entitlement that tells you when the conditional order will be granted, which can take a few weeks to arrive.
The court grants the conditional order – Once you have received the conditional order, it is confirmation that the court has essentially approved your divorce. You will need to wait for a further six weeks before you can apply to finalise your divorce, and during this period, you are legally still married. Ideally, it would be best if you used this time to submit a financial consent order confirming your agreement on how you will split your finances.
STEP 4 – APPLY FOR A FINANCIAL CONSENT ORDER.
Unless you apply for a financial consent order, any agreement you have with your spouse regarding finances will not be legally binding. Whilst this step is not required to get divorced, it is advised. Otherwise, there is nothing to stop your former spouse from making additional claims against your estate in the future. We always recommend speaking with our specialist family lawyers regarding the more complex aspects of divorce, such as the division of marital assets or maintenance and child arrangements, before making any hasty decisions that may not be in your best interests.
STEP 5 – APPLY TO COURT FOR AN ORDER DEALING WITH FINANCES
If it is not possible to agree financial arrangements with your spouse it will be necessary for one of you to start an application to the court for an order in that respect. This will start a process that, in the absence of a settlement, will lead to a court hearing where the court will determine the arrangements that will apply.
STEP 5 – APPLY FOR THE FINAL ORDER.
Six weeks plus one day after receiving the conditional order, you can apply for the final order (previously called the decree absolute), which is the document that legally ends your marriage. You can apply for this by post or online. You are officially divorced once the court has reviewed your application and the final order has been granted.
SPECIALIST DIVORCE SOLICITORS LONDON
No-Fault Divorce has helped remove the adversarial aspect that existed previously in the divorce process. It is also aimed at encouraging divorcing couples to resolve financial and child-related issues by agreement during the “cooling off” period rather than resorting to the courts. These are all positive improvements to the system. However, it is still important to obtain legal advice, particularly in connection with finances and to ensure that your plans are consistent with the arrangements that the Court would be likely to put in place in the absence of agreement. Having the right legal advice and support can also ensure you complete every stage of the process correctly and promptly to avoid unnecessary delays. Our experienced family law solicitors, who also specialise in complex and high-value divorce, will guide you through the process in a way that is tailored to your situation. We offer specialist dispute resolution techniques with solid skills in non-confrontational divorce. However, if it is impossible to avoid litigation, we have the expertise to represent you in the courts.
Regardless of the complexity of your situation, our Family Law team can help you will all aspects of divorce and separation, including divorce, financial settlements, and separation agreements.
We can also assist with other related matters now that your circumstances have changed, such as making or updating an existing Will or all aspects of residential property law.