If you are getting divorced and need legal help during this difficult time, contact the specialist family law solicitors at Slater and Gordon for an initial consultation on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online and we’ll call you.
Separating from your spouse can be a traumatic time and emotions may be running high. To ensure that you’re able to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome for yourself and your family, here are some essentials you should know about divorce law in the UK.
In order to apply for a divorce, you have to provide proof that your marriage has broken down, and to do this, you’ll need to cite one of the following five reasons:
Adultery has a specific definition in UK divorce law. To be able to use this as a reason to legally separate from your spouse, your husband or wife must’ve had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex. Although many people are unaware of this fact, the law only recognises adultery as sex between a woman and a man. It doesn’t include sexual intercourse between two people of the same sex.
It’s also important to be aware that you can’t cite adultery as a reason for divorce if you’ve lived with your spouse as a couple for six months or more since discovering that they’d been unfaithful.
If your spouse has had a relationship with another person that has stopped short of sexual intercourse or it would be difficult to prove that this occurred, you may be able to use grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ rather than adultery when applying for a divorce.
Unreasonable behaviour is a term used to describe actions that you cannot reasonably be expected to put up with. Examples include:
Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly used ground to file for divorce. If you’re not sure if the actions of your spouse qualify as unreasonable for the purposes of divorce, you can get advice from an expert solicitor.
You can file for divorce on the basis that your husband or wife has left you:
You have lived separately for over two years
If you and your spouse have lived separately for at least two years and you both agree to getting a divorce, this can be used as a reason for legal separation.
You have lived separately for five years or more
If you’ve lived apart from your husband or wife for five years or more, you can apply for a divorce even if your spouse disagrees.
To officially begin divorce proceedings, your first step is to fill in a divorce petition. As the partner who’s initiating the proceedings, you’re called the ‘petitioner’. Your spouse will be known as the ‘respondent’.
Your petition to the court must include details such as your full name and address, the full name and address of your husband or wife and your original marriage certificate (or a copy from the register office.. If you’re citing adultery, you may choose to name the person your spouse was unfaithful with, but you don’t have to and it’s not commonly stated.
Keep one copy of the form and send three to your nearest divorce centre (or four if you’re citing adultery and naming the other party). When you send your petition, you’ll have to pay a fee.
Before you file your petition, it’s a good idea to try to agree your reason for divorce with your husband or wife. If your spouse agrees and doesn’t contest the legal separation, the process will be quicker, cheaper and less stressful.
If you can’t agree, or there’s a dispute over who should cover the divorce fee, you may need to go to court - so in these circumstances it’s wise to get advice from an expert family law solicitor.
If your spouse doesn’t defend your divorce petition, you can apply for a decree nisi. This is simply a document that states that the court sees no reason why your divorce can’t be granted. If your husband or wife disputes the divorce, you still have the option of applying for a decree nisi, but you’ll have to attend a court hearing. During this hearing a judge will decide what next steps need to be taken by both parties in order to grant the decree nisi.
If the judge agrees that it should be granted, you and your spouse will be sent a certificate by the court informing you of the date and time your decree nisi will come through. After it has been granted, you’ll have to wait six weeks and 1 day before you can send an application for a decree absolute, which, when issued, will formally end your marriage.
If the judge refuses your application for a decree nisi, you may be sent a certificate setting out why you’ve not been granted a divorce and advising you what to do next. For example, the judge might require additional information in writing or you might need to attend another hearing.
If you apply for your decree absolute 12 months after being granted your decree nisi, you’ll need to explain to the court why there has been a delay.
Commonly, if you haven’t agreed the division of property and finances, you’ll delay applying for your decree absolute until this has been sorted out.
If your spouse started the proceedings and they don’t apply for a decree absolute, you can take this step. However, you’ll have to wait for an additional three months on top of the standard delay of six weeks and 1 day.
Once the court is satisfied that the time limits have been met and there’s no other reason for the divorce not to proceed, you’ll be granted a decree absolute. This means you’re no longer married and, if you wish, you’re free to marry again.
If your spouse starts divorce proceedings against you, you’ll receive a copy of the petition from the divorce centre. You’ll also receive a ‘notice of proceedings’ and an ‘acknowledgment of service’ form. Make sure you fill in the acknowledgement of service form and return it to the court within the specified deadline. If you don’t, as long as the court is satisfied that you received the documents, your husband or wife may be able to carry on with the proceedings regardless. Alternatively, the court may arrange for the documents to be delivered to you personally so that there’s evidence you received them. If the court does this, you may be billed to cover the extra costs.
If you’re intending to defence the divorce, you need to indicate this in the acknowledgment of service form. You will then have 21 days to file further information as to why you are defending the divorce.
The majority of divorces are undefended, and in these cases, there’s no need to go to court. If you and your husband or wife can agree that you both want a divorce and on the reasons why, you can avoid this legal step.
It’s only when a divorce is defended or both sides decide to file petitions that it’s necessary to go to court.
It’s important to be aware that even if you’re struggling to agree with your spouse, there’s still an alternative to court. Mediation can be an effective way to reach an agreement with each other without having one imposed on you by a court. This route is well worth considering as it can save you time, stress and expense.
If you find you’re unable to come to an agreement, you should get legal advice from a family law solicitor. These experts can guide you through the process of divorce and help you to protect your interests. They can also speak to your ex-partner and to their legal team on your behalf, which may be especially important if you’re going through an acrimonious separation.
A solicitor can represent you in court too, meaning you won’t have to do the talking.
The length of time it takes to get a divorce varies according to a number of different factors. Generally speaking, if you and your spouse agree on this legal separation and on the reasons for it, it can be finalised within four to six months. However, it may take longer than this if either party fails to complete the various stages of paperwork promptly of if there’s a delay in applying for the decree absolute. Obviously, if the divorce is contested, you can also expect it to take longer.
Regardless of whether your divorce is contested, the process of getting a decree absolute and legally ending your marriage doesn’t determine what’ll happen to any money or property you share with your ex-partner or which you own yourself - nor does it establish your rights regarding your children. These issues must be decided separately. How long this process takes will depend on the extent to which you and your spouse can agree and on the complexity of your financial arrangements.
In many cases, agreements over these issues can be reached within the same timeframe as the divorce proceedings.
When you need help with a divorce, whether you intend to petition for a divorce yourself or you wish to contest one, you can rely on the experts at Slater and Gordon. Our specialist family law solicitors are highly skilled and experienced in all areas of UK divorce law.
Our lawyers understand that this can be an extremely difficult and emotional time and offer a sensitive, client-focussed service that helps to minimise any stress and anxiety. We’ll be there to guide you each step of the way, remove any uncertainty and enable you to achieve the best possible outcome. We will also avoid using legal jargon when we communicate with you so that you have a clear understanding of what is happening at all times.
Another benefit of using our services is the fact that we offer a choice of flexible pricing and fixed fees, and our solicitors will help you to find ways to keep your costs as low as possible during this legal process.
We’ve the largest team of family lawyers in England and Wales, and with offices around the UK, we’re perfectly placed to help you deal with a divorce. You’ll find Slater and Gordon offices in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Watford, Cardiff, Sheffield, Cambridge, Leeds, Edinburgh and Preston.
We are rated 8.5 out of 10 on TRUSTPILOT, and our family law solicitors are highly rated market leaders in the Legal 500.
For an initial consultation about getting a divorce, or if you simply have a question about this legal area, don’t hesitate to call us on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online and we’ll call you back.
You can also take a look at our free legal advice guide to Relationship Breakdown or download our Petitioner’s Guide to Divorce for further information.