Divorce is a big decision. Although it is usually the culmination of a series of events, it also signals the start of a new process. For most people, this will be their first direct experience of divorce and there are several essentials to consider:
1. Telling your partner
This will not be necessary if you have reached a joint decision to divorce. However, if this is not the case, you will need to decide when – and where – to inform your spouse of your decision.
In addition, if you have reason to suspect that they will not welcome the news or may make attempts to hide assets, it is prudent to delay passing on news of your decision until you have gathered copies of relevant paperwork. This might include mortgage details, house deeds, rent books, pension statements, bank account information and share statements.
2. Seeking legal advice
It is possible to petition for a divorce without seeking legal advice or going to court provided both you and your spouse agree on the need for a divorce and the reason for seeking it.
You will also need to concur over who should pay the divorce costs and on how to deal with post-divorce financial arrangements and any child residency issues. Citizens Advice can usually provide help on how to fill out the divorce petition but, if more guidance is needed, you will need to contact a divorce solicitor. Word of mouth can sometimes be helpful but the Law Society also has an online search facility that can be used to look for divorce lawyers in London and nationwide. In order to find the right firm, it may be necessary to look outside your local area. In general, you should be looking for family law solicitors who focus on divorce. It is also possible to find experienced men’s divorce lawyers.
3. Funding the divorce
Even an uncontested divorce can be a costly business. This is a particular concern for those on low incomes. Legal aid is available for those who have been victims of domestic violence or abuse (appropriate evidence, such as a conviction or caution, will be required) and in situations where the local authority has child protection concerns. It is also possible to apply for legal aid where there is a history or risk of child abduction, or where someone has been a victim of forced marriage.
Unfortunately, recent changes to legal aid have seen funding withdrawn from almost all other divorcing couples. The most obvious solution to this – to agree on all aspects of the divorce – is not always practical. However, agencies such as Relate or qualified independent mediators may be able to help, and some individuals whose income falls below a certain threshold may qualify for legal aid funding to assist with these costs.
Where mediation is unsuccessful and a matter proceeds to court, the Bar Pro Bono Unit or the Free Representation Unit may be able to provide free legal representation. Failing this, it may be possible to use the “Public Access” scheme, which permits direct access to a barrister without going through a solicitor. This can help to keep costs down and some barristers who take on public access work operate on a reduced fee basis for those on low incomes. Finally, it is possible to appear in court as a litigant in person. While this may have apparent financial attractions, it also poses plenty of practical, legal and emotional challenges for those unfamiliar with courts and the law.
4. Choosing the grounds for divorce
Divorces in England and Wales are granted only upon evidence of “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage between the parties. In turn, this requires evidence of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for two years with the consent of both parties, or separation for five years without the consent of both parties.
If necessary, divorce solicitors in London or elsewhere can provide advice on the best grounds to use. Unreasonable behaviour is the most frequently cited reason for divorce.
5. Obtaining a divorce quickly
There is really no such thing as a “quickie” divorce in England and Wales. At a minimum, it usually takes at least four months for an undefended divorce to come through, and 18 months is not unusual even in uncomplicated divorces. No divorce proceedings can commence within a year of the marriage, and all proceedings must include a wait of at least six weeks between the decree nisi and the decree absolute. A quick divorce also means filing on the grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
Neither of these grounds is necessarily a welcome way of ending a relatively amicable relationship breakdown. However, unreasonable behaviour is subjective and there is no minimum hurdle to scale. As a final point, it is also worth noting that any mistake in the divorce petition or subsequent paperwork will result in a delay to the whole process while the error is remedied.