A new ‘DIY’ divorce form has been introduced in a bid to make the process simpler and reduce the number of mistakes made.
Less legal jargon, greater guidance and more ‘tick box’ options is hoped to help the thousands of people filing for divorce without legal advice every year.
It is believed to be a step towards the courts’ long-term goal of a ‘digital divorce’ where married couples who want to split up will be able to make it official online.
While in theory this sounds like a great idea, mistakes can and do get made and so in practice it pays to understand what you’re doing and get it right first time.
How long does it take?
Once you have completed the divorce petition and filed this form with the court, your spouse will be sent a copy and technically has seven days to respond. In practice, I would suggest it is reasonable to give your spouse up to 21 days so they have sufficient time to take legal advice, complete the acknowledgement of service and file with the court.
If your spouse refuses to complete the acknowledgement of service then what next step is taken will depend on the reason you have given for ending the marriage. For example, you can divorce if you have been apart from your spouse for two years or more and they consent. However, if your spouse doesn’t agree you must wait five years unless it’s on the facts of unreasonable behaviour, adultery or desertion. With the latter, all you need to prove is that your wife or husband is aware of the proceedings which can be arranged by asking a ‘process server’ to personally serve a copy of the divorce petition to them. The process server will then provide a certificate confirming service of the petition. If the divorce is challenged by your spouse this could result in a lengthy and costly process, although this is rare.
The new divorce petition has already been met with controversy, namely the section which effective invites people divorcing on the grounds of adultery to ‘name and shame’ the person their partner cheated on them with.
While it may be tempting to do this, it is worth remembering that the third party will be sent copies of the paperwork too and can accept or refute the allegation, so involving them will inevitably prolong the process. From experience I find those who name the third party find the divorce process more acrimonious when the goal should be to ensure the process is handled in the most amicable way possible.
Assuming your spouse agrees to a divorce, it should then be fairly straightforward unless you get something wrong on the form. Statistics show it’s an easy mistake to make. Figures from 2015 showed that England’s biggest divorce ‘hub’ was returning almost one in five forms because of errors.* It could be something as simple as misspelling yours or your spouse’s address, failing to tick a particular box or copy the correct information as stated on your marriage certificate. If you make a mistake though, however minor, the court has to return it to you to amend or fill in again adding additional time and possibly costs as well depending on what stage you are at in the divorce process.
How much does it cost?
It currently costs £550 to file a divorce petition with the court. If you make an error, in most cases there will not be an additional court fee unless, for example, you have to make a formal application to amend the petition with the court.
Where do I get the forms from?
From 4th September 2017, the new divorce forms will be available from the Government’s website or, if you instruct a divorce lawyer, supplied by them. If you want to minimise the risk of your divorce petition being rejected by the court then do seek independent legal advice.
Marc Etherington is a family and divorce lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Cambridge.