The Court Process
The procedure of getting a divorce typically lasts between 5 to 8 months but can last longer if you and your partner cannot agree between yourselves on the care of children or division of assets. Most cases do not last longer than a year. The more you work out together in advance, the more aware you are of the law regarding your case and the better your solicitor, the more likely you are to avoid lengthy proceedings.
The PetitionThe first thing a court needs is a form from the petitioner describing and proving the grounds of the divorce. There are 5 grounds for divorce in England and Wales. They are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Desertion (for a period of more than 2 years)
- Two years’ separation (requires the consent of the spouse)
- Five years’ separation (does not require consent)
Statement of Arrangements for ChildrenIf you have children then you will also need to supply a Statement of Arrangements to the court, detailing the children’s current circumstances and your plans for their future care. Many couples choose to sign an informal separation agreement before they go to court, which then forms the basis of a court order. You should consult a solicitor when making an agreement like this. Alternatively, both partners can submit their own proposals to the court and ask a judge to make the final decision.
All this documentation is handed in along with a copy of the marriage certificate and the court fee of around £300.
Ancillary ReliefHow you divide your property and assets can also form part of a mutual, informal separation agreement. If you cannot agree on division of assets you can apply to the court for a financial order, or Ancillary Relief. Sometimes you have to pay a small fee.
The separate process of applying for a financial order can be entered into either during or after your divorce. As part of an application you will both need to supply detailed financial statements detailing all property, savings, pensions, debts and each partner’s earnings, along with the other documentation.
Acknowledgement, Affidavit & Application for DirectionsThe court then checks through the documents, sends them to the other party and waits for formal acknowledgement. This takes four weeks. When the acknowledgment is received by the court, a further three weeks pass until the court sends both of you copies of each other’s statements and proposals.
You will also receive two blank copies of an Affidavit and an Application for directions. You should complete the Affidavit, preferably with advice from your solicitor, and have it sworn in. You should also submit the Application for directions.
Decree NisiWithin four weeks of receiving these documents the judge will decide on whether to grant a Decree Nisi, which shows the ground for the divorce is proven and the due process of law has taken place. If arrangements for your children are agreed then it is unlikely the court will interfere. If not, you will probably be asked to attend court.
Child OrdersCourts can make a variety of orders on your children’s residency, care and contact arrangements for the non-resident parent as well as maintenance payments. The process starts with a Conciliation Appointment. If you cannot reach an agreement at this point, a CAFCASS officer attached to the court will talk to all parties involved. If a resolution is still impossible, they will make a recommendation and the court will decide.
Financial DisputesIf you cannot agree on the division of your assets with your partner, the court will ask you to attend a First Appointment. At this appointment a judge will either make a final order if agreement can be reached, arrange for a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing or adjourn your case so you can go into independent mediation.
A Financial Dispute Resolution is a meeting attended by both parties where the judge helps to settle any issues you and your partner find it hard to agree on. If this meeting also does not result in agreement you will be asked to attend a Final Hearing. In a Final Hearing, a judge takes into consideration all the evidence presented and makes a final order.
The final order cannot be made unless a Decree Nisi has been pronounced, and in some cases it will not be made until you have a Decree Absolute. The judge will not be the same person that presided over the FDR hearing.