“With over 30 years of experience as a divorce solicitor, I have been actively involved in helping both local and national clients with their relationship breakdowns from my office in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. I choose not to have a large divorce case load as this allows me to deal with each client personally. Because I am selective in who I act for, I get to know my clients and their problems well and can advise on the most appropriate solutions and represent your best interests.” – Paul Bird

It is unfortunately a sad fact of life that not all marriages and civil partnerships are successful in the long term. You may have tried to make things work and have been to Relate or made other attempts at reconciliation and if none of these have worked then it is time for you (perhaps reluctantly) to free yourself from your spouse and move on with your life.

The end of a relationship can and should be managed in a stress free and civilised manner, but as this is often also a distressing and emotional time for one, if not both parties, then it frequently ends in discord and disagreement. It helps therefore to have someone to assist you to work your way through the minefield of separating your lives.

Paul Bird aims to try to help you extricate yourself from your marriage as painlessly and as smoothly as possible.

The divorce itself is only part of the complications you face, as of course you need to add in that you must resolve any issues concerning Children and Finance.

The more you can agree between you the better, but sometimes this is just not possible: that’s when you need to seek the professional help of a divorce solicitor. Who better to turn to than Paul Bird.

The Divorce Procedure

CAVEAT: The following is by no means a comprehensive or complete explanation regarding the divorce process. It is, of necessity, a brief overview of the main aspects. If in doubt please seek my professional assistance.

Divorce Petitions (or dissolution of civil partnership)

Once a person decides that their marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably and that they want to get divorced, then it is necessary to work out how to do this.

The only ground for divorce is because the relationship has broken down irretrievably. This is understandable because taking the decision to divorce is a big step. It is not something that should be undertaken lightly.

A Person may decide that they wish to get divorced because of one very unforgivable action by the other party or it may be the result of a series of actions or behaviour – possibly over many years.

In order to prove or establish that you have sufficient grounds for a divorce, you need to show proof of one of the following by your spouse. (NOTE: It is NOT open for you to divorce your spouse because of your own bad behaviour):

A. adultery

B. behaviour

C. separation for 2 years (with consent)

D. desertion (for 2 years or more)

E. 5 years separation (NO Consent needed)

What constitutes sufficient particulars or grounds under each heading is wide and varied. It needs to be borne in mind that you may have to prove what you are alleging, although proof can be by your spouse admitting the fault alleged, or it could equally be proved by you or other witnesses who can support you if required. As a general rule (called a protocol) it is a requirement that your spouse is written to before the divorce petition is issued, setting out what it is that is intended to be stated as the “particulars” for the divorce and they are given the option to either agree/admit the bad conduct alleged against them or to deny/oppose this.

This has 2 benefits:

1. If what is alleged is agreed (or will not be challenged) then it means the divorce should proceed uncontested and there will be considerable savings in costs AND TIME and in the general distress associated with the divorce. OR

2. If your spouse objects to some element of what is alleged and the particulars cannot be agreed without amendment, then so long as there remains sufficient substance in the allegations then it may be advisable to amend the particulars to an acceptable form for your spouse and so allow the divorce to proceed uncontested. If it is not possible to agree the particulars, then the probability is that the divorce will be contested which of course means that you know you need to have evidence to back up what you allege.

There is a fee currently £550 to issue a divorce petition, although those on benefits may be entitled to apply for a reduced fee.

Acknowledgement of Service

Once the Divorce Petition is issued by the Court it is sent to your spouse and they have the chance to agree or disagree with what you are alleging. If they agree, then they return the form to the court and the next step can happen as an uncontested divorce.

If they do not agree and return the form to the Court saying this, then your divorce cannot proceed as an uncontested divorce and the Court will list a hearing when each of you attend the Court and are required to give your evidence to prove or disprove what is alleged. The court makes a decision and either finds that it is satisfied that you have proved that sufficient grounds exist for the proposed divorce and often proceeds to declare the Decree Nisi;

or it finds that there is not enough evidence to prove the marriage has broken down irretrievably and therefore refuses the divorce petition and it is dismissed.

Decree Nisi (next step)

Before declaring the Decree Nisi, the court also has to state that it is satisfied with the arrangements for any children under 18. It may be that you are able to agree who your child or children will live with and how often they will see the parent they are not living with. You need to remember that children are not pawns to be used as bargaining tools between you, they rarely are the cause of the breakdown of the marriage and they should not be involved in the divorce if at all possible.

We cannot here discuss the complexities and considerations which a court has to take into account when deciding children matters other than to simply state that the child’s best interests are paramount and outweigh any claims or arguments by the parents.

Assuming the court has found that there is sufficient evidence to support your petition under one of the above routes and it is satisfied with the arrangements for children then it lists a hearing for uncontested divorces and at that hearing it then makes an order of Decree Nisi. This should a formality of a hearing and no-one needs to attend. This is the halfway house in the divorce process.

IMPORTANT: The Decree Nisi DOES NOT mean you are divorced, you cannot remarry yet.

Decree Absolute

As a general rule 6 weeks after the Decree Nisi you can apply for the Decree Absolute and ONLY once this order is received are you finally divorced.

However there are a number of good reasons why you may choose not to apply for the decree absolute straight away:

It is normal for financial matters to be resolved before the final Decree Absolute is applied for. Until finances are resolved you remain married, you may well have rights as against each others pensions, finances, life policies and also possibly entitlement under employment rights etc, if after Decree Nisi and before Decree Absolute either one of you were to die, then there may be property title matters affected. Also, while still a spouse you may retain important benefits, which would end on the granting of the Decree Absolute – including private pensions, state pensions, death in service benefits from the deceased parties work on Decree Absolute any previous Will, will be null and void (unless expressly worded to be in anticipation of the divorce).

Financial Matters in Divorce

Every couples financial situations are different, the court process can be complex, but one thing is clear the parties should attempt to reach some form of agreement concerning the division of their finances.

If it is possible for an agreement to be reached between you then the Court must approve the terms of the settlement in order for it to be come legally binding. This process can be reasonably easily be encompassed in what is known as a Consent Order which is sent to the court for approval along with a summary of each parties finances.

If no agreement has been reached then the factors considered by the court when asked to or make a decision on the division of a couples finances are clearly set out in Matrimonial Causes Act in particular Section 23. This process is known as ancillary relief or financial remedy proceedings and is dealt with elsewhere.