Getting divorced can be one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life.
In addition to the emotional upheaval of ending a long-term relationship, there may be considerable anxiety concerning children and financial issues.
Legislation that came into force in April 2022 has brought significant changes to the divorce process in the UK and the terminology that surrounds it.
While Wilson Browne believe that these changes will make the procedure much more straightforward and less stressful, we recognise that, in the short term, they may create uncertainty and anxiety.
In this guide, we will explain how the UK divorce process works following the new legislation and equip you with the information to help you make the right decisions for your future.
An important point to highlight is that most divorces proceed without either party having to appear in court.
Our team of family law solicitors have been recognised by the Legal 500 (a who’s who of the legal profession) and will be more than willing to assist in reaching an amicable arrangement with your partner on your behalf and so reduce the emotional strain of the divorce process.
What are the grounds for divorce in the UK?
One of the areas in which legislation has had the greatest effect concerns the grounds for divorce.
Under the previous system, someone seeking a divorce had to show that one of the following applied: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, separation for two years (with both parties consenting to the divorce), separation for five years (without the consent of one party) or desertion.
What was wrong with the old system?
Many legal experts felt that the process was unnecessarily antagonistic, leading to acrimony and delays to the process.
For example, a person accused of adultery or unreasonable behaviour might feel obliged to contest the divorce simply to protect their reputation. This could lead to an extremely stressful experience for both parties.
If a divorce was finally granted the ill feeling created by the process could make it difficult for the couple to reach amicable agreements on issues such as finances and child arrangements.
How does the new system work?
Under the new system (often referred to as no-fault divorce) an individual seeking a divorce does not need to show that any of the previous grounds apply.
Instead, they simply provide a statement saying that their marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’.
The new system makes it much harder for someone to contest a divorce. As there is now no need to provide a reason for the breakdown or apportion blame, however, it is hoped that the changes will make it easier for both parties to accept the situation and move on.
To this end, couples can now apply jointly for a divorce although it is still possible for either party to apply on their own.
Does it matter if it is a joint or solo application?
The first point to consider before starting the divorce process is whether it will be a joint or solo application.
You can make a joint application if you both agree to a divorce and as long as one party is not subject to domestic abuse. With a joint application, each party will have to separately confirm that they wish to continue with the divorce at each stage of the process. If either party fails to respond or stops responding, you will be able to continue with the divorce as a sole applicant.
The alternative is to apply as a sole applicant. This will be where one party does not agree to the divorce or where one party does not believe that the other will cooperate or respond.
You might also want to put in a solo application if you or your spouse are entitled to apply for divorce in a country other than the UK. Different jurisdictions may be more or less favourable to you in terms of financial and child-custody arrangements. By making the application yourself you ensure that your case will be held in your preferred country.
It is possible for you to apply for a divorce on your own without engaging a solicitor.
What do I need to do before I apply for a divorce in the UK?
Check that you are entitled to a divorce
The first thing to do is establish whether you are entitled to a divorce in the UK. While the process has been simplified by the new legislation, you must still be able to show that:
- You have been married for more than a year.
- Your marriage has irretrievably broken down (it is now sufficient to simply file a statement of this – there is no need to provide more details or apportion blame).
- The marriage is legally recognised in the UK (this includes same-sex marriages).
Reach agreements over children and assets
It is recommended that you and your spouse agree what the future arrangements for the children will be, and how your assets (including property, possessions, money, investments, and pensions) will be divided between you.
It is important to give yourself sufficient time to find mutually acceptable solutions as failure to reach an agreement could lead to stressful and acrimonious court proceedings.
For children, the key points to consider include:
- Which parent the children will live with
- The frequency of contact that the other parent will have with them (e.g. weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc)
- Indirect contact the non-resident parent will have (e.g. phone calls, text messages, etc)
- Holidays and special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays
When dividing up assets it is important to consider:
- Possessions (including vehicles and jewellery)
- Pensions (it may not be possible to transfer your spouse’s pension to you after divorce making it all the more important to reach an agreement as soon as possible
What help is available in agreeing the terms of divorce?
It is recommended that you and your spouse each appoint solicitors to assist in discussions concerning finances and children matters.
At Wilson Browne, we have a wealth of experience in divorce issues and a successful track record of helping couples to resolve disagreements.
Divorcing couples are increasingly using mediation as a way of reaching agreements on matters relating to children and finance, thereby avoiding the need for a court hearing. Mediation sessions provide a safe, neutral and confidential environment in which spouses can discuss issues and explore potential solutions.
They are guided by an independent mediator (an expert in family law specially trained for the role) and can be an effective way of resolving disputes.
The advantages of using mediation include:
- It is more cost-effective and quicker than going to court.
- It avoids the adversarial nature of court, with the focus on the couples working together constructively to find mutually acceptable solutions.
- The process is more flexible than a court hearing – sessions can be scheduled around work and childcare commitments.
- The confidential nature of the sessions may make it easier for couples to air their true feelings.
- The couples have the satisfaction of knowing that they have contributed to the agreed solution – rather than having one imposed by a court. This may make it easier for them to accept the settlement and move on with their lives.
How do I apply for a divorce in the UK?
Once you are ready to go ahead your application for a divorce can be made online. There is a fee of £593 – help with this may be available if you are on benefits or low income. You will need the following:
- the full name and address of you and your spouse
- your marriage certificate
- proof of any change of name since you married
Your application will be checked and, if everything is in order, you will receive confirmation that it has been approved and given a case number.
If you made a solo application, your spouse will be notified about the application. They will have 14 days to respond to the application and say whether they support the application or intend to dispute it.
Under the new system, there are fewer reasons for them to oppose the divorce limited to jurisdictional grounds or the validity of marriage. In the event of a dispute, a court hearing may be necessary for a judge to reach a decision.
Applying for a conditional order
Under the new legislation, you must wait for a period of 20 weeks from when your divorce application was issued before applying for a conditional order (formerly known as a decree nisi). The conditional order is an interim stage of the divorce process and confirms that you are entitled to get divorced.
If the court accepts your application, you and your spouse will both be sent a certificate. This will confirm the time and date at which your conditional order comes into effect.
It is important to be aware that you and your spouse are still married even after the conditional order comes into effect.
Applying for final order
Final order (previously known as the decree absolute) is the stage that brings your marriage to an end and means that you and your spouse are divorced.
You must wait for at least 43 days from when the conditional order came into effect. It is important to be aware that if you want a consent order (a legally enforceable agreement about you and your partner’s financial arrangements following the divorce), you must apply for this before applying for the final order.
Your application will be checked and, if approved, the final order will be made. This means that you are now officially divorced.
How long does the divorce process take in the UK?
Divorce under the new legislation will take approximately 6 to 8 months. This will be longer if finances are being discussed.
How much does a divorce cost in the UK?
There is a fee of £593 to apply for a divorce (there may be help available for people on benefits and low incomes).
Fees for solicitors and mediation will depend on the complexity of the case and the amount of help required.
At Wilson Browne, we pride ourselves on offering an excellent service at an affordable price. We will be totally transparent with our changes so that you know what the cost will be before deciding whether to use our services.
Where can I get more help and advice on my divorce?
We recognise how difficult an experience getting a divorce is and are committed to helping to ease the strain with our friendly, professional, and sensitive service.
Wilson Browne can be there for you every step of the way – helping you with negotiations and mediation over your children and finances, and all of the applications you make to the court.
Our offices in Corby, Higham Ferrers & Rushden, Kettering, Leicester, Northampton and Wellingborough allow us to offer a face-to-face meeting at a location near you. We will also be delighted to arrange a home visit for clients with mobility issues.