In this extract from her book Divorce and Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer, Marilyn Stowe discusses the usual route to divorce.
As of now, divorce remains a six-step process.
1/ The first step is to lodge the divorce petition with the court. If there are children to the marriage, the petition must be accompanied by a Statement of the Arrangements for Children. The court will then send a copy of the petition to the other partner. The partner who lodges the petition is the petitioner; the other partner is the respondent. If the reason for the divorce is adultery and a third person is named in the petition, he or she is called the co-respondent. You cannot lodge a divorce petition until you have been married for at least a year.
A note on co-respondents: even if you have the opportunity to name a co-respondent on your divorce petition, I do not recommend that you do so. Such naming is not necessary; a decision to “name and shame” may therefore come across as embittered and vengeful. It is unlikely to impress a judge because it adds to the costs and causes unnecessary conflict. My advice is to save your powder for dealing with the children and finances.
2/ The respondent must complete an Acknowledgement of Service document and indicate any intention to defend the divorce. The majority of divorces in this country are undefended. If you defend the divorce, you may end up having to pay the costs of a prolonged and bitter battle . In 30 years, I have only had to deal with one defended divorce. In that case the other party, who opposed our client’s petition, ended up paying the costs.
He or she has seven days to reply and should consult a solicitor at this stage.
3/ The Acknowledgement of Service is returned to the court, which sends a copy to the petitioner or their lawyer. The petitioner’s next step is to file an affidavit, confirming that the details of the divorce petition are correct. Once the affidavit is sworn it is returned to the court.
4/ The affidavit is placed before a district judge. If the judge decides that the documentation is in order, a certificate is granted and sent to the petitioner, giving a date when the decree nisi will be pronounced in court.
Note: in the case of a civil partnership, the decree nisi is replaced by a conditional order.
5/ On the specified date, the decree nisi is pronounced in court. It is not necessary for anyone to be in court on this occasion. It is important to recognise that the decree nisi does not end the marriage. Partners cannot remarry until the decree absolute has been obtained.
Note: in the case of a civil partnership, the decree absolute is replaced by a final order.
Financially speaking, the decree nisi is an important stage, because the court has power to make a final order at this point.
6/ Six weeks after the decree nisi is issued, the petitioner can apply for the decree to be made absolute. A sealed copy of the decree absolute is sent to both parties and this should be produced as evidence of divorce on remarriage. If the petitioner delays applying for the decree absolute, a respondent may apply three months after the earliest date that the petitioner could have applied for it. At this point a financial order can be implemented.
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