Ending a marriage or civil partnership is never easy. Many divorce applicants are at the lowest ebb of their life emotionally; with feelings of fear, vulnerability, and anger dominating their waking and sleeping hours. As a family law Solicitor who has helped many people through the divorce process, one thing I know for sure is the better informed my client is regarding how divorce law works in England and Wales, the more confident they are of the decisions they make. This leads to a feeling of optimism regarding the future; it is true what they say – there is life, not to mention happiness, after divorce.
This article provides a jargon-free explanation of how divorce works in England and Wales (divorce law in Scotland differs), however, this should not be taken as legal advice. Remember, even if you and your spouse are on good terms, to achieve an outcome which represents your best interests, and those of your children, you should always seek the advice of a Solicitor. Unfortunately, the family courts are full of people who, had they had legal advice, probably would not be there. A reputable family lawyer will do everything possible to assist you and your spouse to agree on arrangements for your children and reach a financial settlement amicably between yourselves, using alternative dispute resolution methods such as round-table negotiation and/or mediation. Such actions usually de-escalate disputes before they develop into costly and stressful court proceedings.
The grounds for divorce
In England and Wales, there is only one ground for divorce, and that is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, due to:
- unreasonable behaviour
- two years’ separation (with the consent of the other party)
- five years’ separation (no consent required)
To get a divorce in England and Wales you must have been married for at least one year and see England or Wales as your permanent home or be domiciled in one of these countries if you live overseas.
Let’s look at the reasons for the marriage irretrievably breaking down in more detail.
To qualify as adultery, sexual intercourse must have taken place. Sexual behaviour (such as oral sex) or emotional infidelity, although devastating to you, cannot be cited as adultery (although it can be cited as an example of unreasonable behaviour). In addition, you need to apply for divorce within six months of discovering the infidelity.
Unreasonable behaviour was formally known as ‘cruelty’. It can include a variety of behaviours, including physical, sexual, economic, and/or mental abuse, chronic unfaithfulness, and abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. If your spouse disputes some of the examples of unreasonable behaviour you list on the petition, they can be changed.
At present, the government has asked for consultation in preparation to overhaul divorce law in England and Wales. The fact that desertion is still grounds for divorce shows how archaic the law in this area is. Designed to protect women who were left by their husbands (often without economic means), desertion is defined as a spouse leaving you without your consent or a reason. You must have been separated for two years to cite desertion.
Two years’ separation
If you have been living separately for two years, you can divorce, but only with the consent of your spouse.
Five years’ separation
If you have been living apart for five years, you can divorce your spouse, even if they refuse to agree.
The divorce process
The basic process for obtaining a divorce is as follows:
File the divorce petition – the petition is a document required to be filed in court asking permission to divorce. The person filing the petition is known as the Petitioner, and their spouse is referred to as the Respondent. The reasons why the relationship has irretrievably broken down must be stated in the petition.
Acknowledgement of service – most divorce petitions are now handled in Divorce Centres, located throughout the country. Your application will be checked by staff, and if everything is correct, you will receive a stamped copy of your application and a case number. Your spouse will receive a copy also.
Apply for a decree nisi – If your spouse does not defend the divorce (defended divorces are exceptionally rare) then you will receive a decree nisi, which confirms there is no good reason why the divorce should not be granted.
Decree absolute – After six weeks and one day, you will be able to apply for the decree absolute, which will legally end your marriage.
Please note that the above is a simplified version of the process and even the most amicable divorce will take around six months to complete. Disagreements over the financial settlement and arrangements for children often arise. This is where your Solicitor’s advice becomes invaluable. Not only can they help you resolve disputes in a non-confrontational and respectful manner, but they will also provide opinions on the choices being offered to you which are free from emotion and focused solely on your long-term best interests.
Contact our divorce lawyers in london today
Getting divorced is one of life’s most stressful events, and one that no one who enters a marriage ever thinks will happen to them. But with sound legal advice and representation, the process can be made less painful, perhaps leaving you a stronger person at the end.
Our specialist family Solicitors are able to advise and support you through any family law matter. Call us on 020 7841 1081 or contact us online.
 The procedure for dissolving a civil partnership is almost identical to a divorce, with the exception of adultery being a fact which can be cited as a reason the relationship has irretrievably broken down.