Officially ending a marriage by divorce (or a civil partnership by dissolution) is a serious step. It is something that you should give significant thought to and not enter into the matter lightly.
You might to want to discuss it with family and friends. Or seek counselling and advice through an impartial relationship organisations such as Relate (formerly the National Marriage Guidance Council), 0300 400 1234.
Thinking about a divorce? Consider the implications first.
Remember, you are not alone. Some 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce according to the Office of National Statistics, 34% not making it to their 20th anniversary.
You must prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There are five facts (legal areas) under which you can ask for a divorce in England and Wales. They are Adultery, Two-year Separation, Five-year Separation (One-year and Two-year in Scotland), Desertion and Unreasonable Behaviour. Of these five, Unreasonable Behaviour and Two-year Separation are the most common reasons.
Find out more about the grounds for divorce.
You must have been married for at least a year and have an address in England or Wales (the situation is different under Scottish and Northern Irish law). If you have been married for less than a year, you can request legal separation instead and seek a full divorce when that year is up.
If you believe that the divorce process will be amicable and that you and your spouse will come to an agreement satisfactory to both of you over care of any children, financial matters (present and future) etc, you may wish to handle the divorce yourself.
However, you are advised to seek the advice of solicitor or the services of the Family Mediation Council. Even the most amicable of arrangements made now may cause problems later unless made legally binding.
Choosing a solicitor
A solicitor cannot represent two spouses in conflict, and one spouse should not be allowed to be in a meeting when the other is talking to his/her solicitor. Again, it might seem obvious but people do sometimes forget that divorce is a legal matter, not simply a marital dispute between two spouses.
You may feel that using just one solicitor to draw up an arrangement that you’re both amenable to is the best option.
If there is dissent between the two parties, then you may opt for two legal representatives. Remember, the legal costs could well be coming out of the same pot to the detriment of both spouses.
Divorce can be a time of high emotion. Be aware that however you read the situation, what you believe to be ‘fair’ will not necessarily be reflected under law. Always try to remain calm and reasoned.
It may seem obvious but do ensure your solicitor specialises in divorce and/or family issues. You don’t necessarily want someone whose speciality is conveyancing. Though that may come in useful later!
Many solicitors will offer a fixed fee for a straightforward divorce, often with an initial half-hour meeting (free) to discuss the case. However, be aware that should complications arise over childcare, finances, etc, your legal costs can quickly escalate.
Ensure that your legal representative keeps you on track with what is happening. Ask for a rough timetable for the whole process and what you get for your fixed fee. Responding to half a dozen anguished calls a day from you will inevitably bump your costs up.
If the divorce is straightforward (ie not defended), it’s unlikely that you will have to appear in court.
To understand the next steps, find out about the divorce process.
For further information visit www.gov.uk/divorce
There are differences in divorce law between England & Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For further information on Scottish divorce laws, visit www.scotcourts.gov.uk and for divorce laws specific to Northern Ireland visit www.courtsni.gov.uk.