How to get a divorce in the UK
If you are planning on getting divorced there is a strict legal process you need to go through. Understanding the process and what is required can make it easier for you to get divorced by allowing you to be properly prepared, minimising the risk of any unexpected problems holding up your divorce.
In this article, we will cover some of the most important points you need to consider:
- How the divorce process works
- What the grounds for divorce are
- Financial settlements
- Arrangements for children
- Using non-confrontational dispute resolution for divorce
How the divorce process works in the UK
There are various steps involved in the divorce process. By correctly preparing for and carrying out each step, you can give yourself the best chance of a smooth, faster and cost-effective divorce that protects your interests.
Filing for divorce – To start divorce proceedings, either or both spouses will need to send a divorce application to your local family court. It is usually a good idea to get advice from a specialist divorce lawyer to ensure all of the correct details are included. It is also advisable to discuss the petition with your spouse wherever possible to minimise the chances of them challenging the divorce.
Responding to a divorce petition – If your spouse files for divorce, you will be notified by the relevant court and will have 8 days to respond. If you accept the contents of the divorce petition, including the reason given by your spouse for the divorce, you can simply agree and the divorce will go ahead. If you wish to defend the divorce, you will need to inform the divorce centre of this within 8 days and will then have 21 days to respond with the reasons why you are defending the divorce.
Decree Nisi – If the divorce petition is undefended, then whichever spouse started proceedings can apply for a decree nisi. This is a legal document issued by a court establishing that there is no barrier to your divorce. If one spouse defends the divorce, the other spouse can still apply for a decree nisi, but you may need to attend court and make your case to judge in order for them to issue the decree.
Decree Absolute – Once a decree nisi has been granted, you will then need to wait at least 43 days and you can then apply for a decree absolute. Once a court issues you with a decree absolute, your marriage is officially over.
Defending a divorce – If one spouse does not wish to get divorced or disagrees with the contents of the divorce petition, you may need to go to court to resolve the matter.
Divorce settlements – When you get divorced, you will need to agree how to divide your finances and what will happen to assets such as your home. If you have children, you will need to decide who they will live with, what contact each parent will have with them and how they will be supported.
Grounds for divorce in the UK
In order to get divorced in the UK, you will need to have been married for at least one year and at least one of the following grounds will need to apply:
Adultery – This is where your spouse has had sex with someone of the opposite sex. Under current UK law, sleeping with someone of the same sex does not qualify as adultery, even for same sex marriages. Same sex ‘adultery’ is instead classified as ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
Unreasonable behaviour – This is where your spouse has behaved in such a way that you believe it is no longer reasonable to expect you to live with them. Examples include domestic abuse, drunkenness, refusing to contribute financially or spending excessive amounts of time at work or out with friends.
Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly used reason for divorce as it means you can move ahead with the divorce quickly without either party necessarily needing to agree “fault”. This is because it is usually possible for both spouses to agree what grounds to use in the divorce petition, although it is recommended to have expert legal advice to be sure the grounds are sufficient to satisfy a judge without needing either party to agree to behaviour they are uncomfortable with.
Desertion – This is where your spouse leaves you without your agreement or a good reason with the intention of ending your relationship. They must have been gone for more than 2 years out of the past 2.5 years before you can claim desertion.
Separation for more than 2 years – If you have no longer been a couple for more than 2 years and both agree to the divorce, this can be used as grounds for divorce.
Separation for more than 5 years – If you have no longer been a couple for 5 years or more, you can use this as grounds for divorce even if your spouse does not agree.
Making a financial settlement when getting divorced
When you divorce, you and your former partner will need to reach a settlement about how to divide your money, property and any other assets. You can do this voluntarily or you can take the matter to court and have a judge decide for you.
In most cases, it will be faster and cheaper to agree the details of your financial settlement with your ex-partner. Methods such as mediation and collaborative law can make it easier to reach a fair settlement while you can use a Consent Order to make a voluntary arrangement legally binding for the future.
Making arrangements for children when getting divorced
If you and your spouse have children, making arrangements for their care will no doubt be one of your top priorities. This includes deciding who they will live with, what level of contact the non-resident parent will have and how the children will be supported financially.
Again, this is something you can agree voluntarily or ask a judge to decide in court. It is usually in everyone’s best interests, particularly those of your children, if you can make a voluntary arrangement. Resorting to court action increases the likelihood of conflict between you and your former spouse with the potential to damage your relationship further and make it harder for you to parent your children together.
Using non-confrontational dispute resolution to get divorced
In most cases, it is no longer necessary to go to court to agree the details of your divorce, such as how to divide your finances or what will happen to your children. Increasingly, divorce law is focused around non-confrontational dispute resolution, allowing separating couples to agree the specifics of their divorce.
There are two main methods of non-confrontational divorce – mediation and collaborative law. Each has its advantages and may be appropriate in different circumstances.
Mediation for divorce – This involves parties meeting with a neutral mediator to discuss the issues and work together to agree a settlement. The mediator’s role is to guide the discussion and defuse any potential conflict, so the process stays productive.
Mediation is now the preferred route for resolving issues surrounding divorce and you will usually need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to see whether mediation is suitable for you as a standard part of the divorce process. If you wish to take your divorce settlement to court, you will need a signed form from a certified mediator to show you have considered mediation first.
The exception to this is in cases where mediation would clearly not be suitable, such as where there has been domestic abuse or where one spouse now lives abroad.
Collaborative law – This involves a four way meeting between the two spouses and their respective lawyers (who must be trained in collaborative law). Again, the focus is on agreeing a settlement, but each party will have the benefit of their own expert legal representation. This can be a better choice where there are more complex issue, such as a jointly owned business, to sort out.
Why choose Crisp & Co for your divorce?
Crisp & Co’s specialist family law solicitors have been advising and representing clients with all issues related to divorce and separation for over 20 years. As family law is our sole focus, we have deep expertise in all of the issues surrounding divorce and family breakdown, including financial settlements and arrangements for children. We also have particular expertise in same sex marriages and civil partnerships.
Our approach is based around non-confrontational dispute resolution, including mediation and collaborative law. Our team includes several members of Resolution – a group of family lawyers committed to removing the conflict from family law – and trained collaborative lawyers.
This commitment to non-confrontational dispute resolution means we can usually help you get divorced faster and at lower expense while allowing you to maintain a better relationship with your former partner. This can help to make the divorce process as simply and stress-free as possible.
Get in touch with our divorce solicitors in London & South East England
For help starting or responding to divorce proceedings, working out a financial settlement or arrangements for children, or any other aspect of the divorce process, please get in touch.
- Henry Crisp
- Senior Partner, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer
- Carol Christofi
- Partner, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer
- Anna Clifton
- Partner & Solicitor
- Jenine Imms
- Chartered Legal Executive
How can we help?