Those who find themselves in a relationship that is no longer sustainable often want to free themselves from their current marital state as quickly and painlessly as possible. One of the most commonly asked questions about divorce we receive is how long one takes to be granted and how expensive it is to obtain.
The law surrounding divorce can often be complex and is subject to the individual circumstances of each client. In this article, we’ll outline the process that divorce proceedings must travel through before a decree absolute is granted, as well as offering up some expert insight into some of the questions that play on the minds of those seeking a divorce.
How do I start divorce proceedings?
When a couple enters into a marriage or civil partnership, the hope for the future is that their partnership will be a long and happy one.
However, more than 20% of UK couples filed for divorce in 2020 alone, making it a common legal process for all age groups, sexes and family situations.
Getting started with divorce proceedings can be an emotional and painful first step, but finding a professional, empathetic and qualified family solicitor who specialises in divorce for some initial advice is always a good idea. Despite press coverage of so called ‘quickie’ divorces which seems to happen in a matter of weeks, in real life the divorce process isn’t always easy to understand or navigate and can move slower than the tabloids may have you believe.
The obvious first step is to inform your partner about your decision. Keeping things as amicable and respectful as possible at this early stage can set the tone for the rest of the divorce process and minimise stress and tension as the paperwork progresses.
Next, you will need to file a document known as a petition with the court. This cites the grounds on which you are seeking a divorce. Following that, a decree nisi which recognises that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the grounds for the divorce have been proven, is granted.
Finally, a decree absolute can be applied for six weeks after the decree nisi to legally end the marriage or civil partnership.
Although this process sounds simple enough, there are a variety of other factors (as well as emotions) involved that can make the divorce process much more difficult to tackle alone, including financial settlements.
What are the grounds for divorce?
Currently, anyone petitioning for divorce must have been married or part of a civil partnership for more than 12 months. You can seek to dissolve the legal relationship on one of the following grounds:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- A separation of two years, where you both agree to the divorce
- A separation of five years
A no-fault divorce bill is currently working its way through government. This bill will overhaul laws which have stood in England and Wales for over 50 years. It will allow the divorce petitioner to use the fact that the relationship has irrevocably broken down as grounds for the divorce.
How long does a divorce take?
In cases where no financial issues exist between the estranged spouses, the process of a petition can take up to six months.
If financial settlements need to be taken into consideration and the division of assets must be decided, another layer of complexity is added and that can significantly slow the divorce process down.
Divorces can take in excess of a year if not more if tensions run high and parties cannot reach an agreement through discussion and mediation.
How much does a divorce cost?
Getting a divorce in England or Wales can cost a bare minimum of £550 due to court fees (unless the court assess you as eligible for fees exemption/ reduction), but this go-it-alone approach to dissolving a legal marriage or partnership can often leave many people in a far worse position than they would be had they engaged timely and experienced legal advice.
Any good family law solicitor will be able to give an informed estimate on the legal assistance required to help you reach a dissolution of your marriage or civil partnership after taking into account all financial assets, so be sure to ask about costs before you engage someone to represent you and protect your best interests.
In certain situations, legal aid may be granted to help those seeking a divorce cover the costs of court fees and legal advice. Your National Legal Service divorce solicitor will be able to advise you of your eligibility for this scheme during your initial consultation.
What am I entitled to in a divorce settlement?
Again, this is very much dependent on the individual circumstances of the petitioning party and their estranged partner. Again, having good legal counsel will give you the best chance of receiving a fair settlement which considers the interests of both parties.
Financial settlements take into account savings, pensions, assets such as furniture and appliances, vehicles, businesses and properties both either independently or jointly owned by both parties.
Child maintenance and spousal maintenance payments are also common features of many modern divorces. With all of these additional decisions and agreements to be reached, it’s easy to see how the act of obtaining a divorce can quickly become more complicated and time consuming than you may first think.
In many cases, the court will also take into consideration things such as the earning potential of both parties, contributions to the marriage made by both partners, age and length of the marriage. That said, there are no definitive guidelines that govern how assets are divided as each individual case is different and therefore treated on a case-by-case basis by the courts as needed.