I am considering divorce, what is the process?

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Ending a marriage is one of the most significant and stressful decisions a couple may ever make. But if your relationship has broken down, the decision to divorce may be necessary for both parties to move forward.

Associate solicitor Louise Daniel, from WHN’s Haslingden office, provides a guide to help explain the divorce process. 

Divorce law and the divorce process changed in April 2022 in England and Wales. The new system aims to make the process as smooth and amicable as possible for divorcing parties.

Under the old law, which was predominantly a fault-based system, parties seeking divorce (without having to wait a minimum of two years), had to cite either the adultery of the other party or allegations of unreasonable behaviour. Often this created issues for the spouse responding to the divorce, if they did not accept the allegations made against them.

Under the new law, there is no longer a fault-based system. The only ground to issue a divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Below are several key points outlining the divorce process.

Do I choose a joint or sole application?

The first decision that divorcing couples must make is whether to issue a joint or a sole application. Not all law firms deal with joint applications, as this can cause conflict issues, particularly if parties agree on matters initially, but then have a change of heart. This can be a particular issue in relation to the financial side of the case or matters regarding children.

Most divorce cases proceed based on a sole application. In this case, if instructed, separate appointed solicitors will undertake the legal work on behalf of each spouse.

How do I start the divorce process?

All divorce cases are now dealt with via an online court portal. Necessary documents are initially drafted for the applicant’s (the spouse commencing the divorce) approval, and then uploaded to the court portal, by their solicitor, rather than being sent in the post to the court.

How much does it cost to file for divorce?

Once the divorce application is prepared and approved it is uploaded to the court portal together with a court fee, (as from April 1, 2024), of £652. Individuals who are on a low income may benefit from the government’s Help With Fees scheme. To seek support with the court fee the applicant must complete an online form and obtain a reference number which is then provided to their solicitor.

Solicitors’ fees are in addition to the court fee – your solicitor will discuss the potential costs with you at the start of your case.

How does the divorce case progress?

Once the court has commenced the divorce and allocated a case number, a copy of the divorce application will be forwarded by e-mail to the respondent (the spouse who is responding to the application).

If the respondent then completes a form via the online portal called ‘the acknowledgement of service form’, which the court provides, indicating they do not dispute that there should be a divorce, the divorce should proceed without any significant difficulty.

There is no longer an option for the respondent to defend a divorce.

If the respondent fails to complete the form, there are alternative options which enables the applicant to progress the case which your solicitor will be able to advise you about.

Can I claim costs from my ex-spouse?

As part of the divorce application, there is no longer a possibility of making a claim that the other party should pay or contribute to the applicant’s divorce costs at the initial stage. If this is an issue, it should ideally be resolved between the parties prior to commencing divorce proceedings.

There is a possibility of making a separate application to the court later in the process in respect of the issue of costs, however, the general principal is that each party should bear their own legal costs. There would need to be a significant reason for the court to depart from this premise.

What happens during the 20-week waiting period?

Once a case has been issued, there is then a 20-week waiting period. The divorce cannot progress during this period, even if everything is agreed. The court expects parties to use this time to endeavour to resolve any associated matters regarding the parties’ children and financial matters.

Both parties should seek professional advice regarding finances, to understand the benefits of obtaining a financial clean break from their spouse. This cannot be achieved simply by obtaining a divorce.

When can I obtain my Conditional Order?

Once the 20-week waiting period has passed, it is then possible to apply for the Conditional Order of divorce (formerly the Decree Nisi). The Conditional Order confirms the marriage will be dissolved. unless the court receives evidence during the next six-week period as to why the Conditional Order should not be made final.

When can I apply for the Final Order?

If neither party files evidence within the six-week period after the pronouncement of the Conditional Order, the applicant can apply for the Final Order once this period has elapsed.

The Final Order confirms a divorce is now finalised by the court and the parties are therefore no longer legally married.

How long does the divorce process take?

The whole divorce process, if it proceeds smoothly, takes approximately seven months. While relatively straightforward, there can be many complicating factors during the process, given everybody’s circumstances are different, and often professional advice is necessary in relation to resolving any difficulties and matters regarding children and finances.

Louise Daniel has over 25 years’ experience advising clients on separation, divorce, financial and children cases. Should you wish to seek advice regarding your divorce please contact Louise on 01706 213356 or by emailing [email protected] with your contact number.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Woodcocks Haworth & Nuttall Solicitors

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