Anyone who has been married for more than one year can apply for a divorce. They can do so with or without the agreement of their spouse although agreeing is usually the best approach.
The three most common types of petition are unreasonable behaviour, adultery and separating for two years with both parties agreeing.
One spouse (the petitioner) will lodge the petition with the court. If there are children in the marriage he or she will file a Statement of Arrangements for Children. This statement sets out the couple's plan to look after any child after the divorce is finalised. It does not regulate contact. If there are problems between the parents, separate advice will be required to deal with issues relating to the children.
The other spouse (the respondent) will file a signed form of acknowledgement with the court confirming they have been served with the petition.
The petitioner will then apply for the decree nisi. This is the stage when a judge will consider the papers and decide whether the marriage should be dissolved. If the judge is content with the papers he or she will give notice to both spouses of a date when the decree nisi is pronounced. In the majority of cases neither will be required to attend the hearing.
The decree nisi is then sent to each. The petitioner can, after a minimum of six weeks and one day, apply for the absolute. This brings the marriage to an end. While each is then free to remarry, there may be other issues to consider. For example, there may be an effect on any will. It is also important to note the divorce will not dismiss either your or your ex-spouse’s financial claims. This is an ever developing area of law. There is often no one right answer. Instead there are a range of possible outcomes which can be tailored to suit the various needs of the two households looking to the future. One of the guiding principles is fairness – which may not always mean the same to both parties. If a case goes to a final hearing at court, the judge has a wide discretion over the solution that can be imposed whilst remaining fair. This means that the outcome may be difficult to predict.
Where there are children, the fundamental principle is that their best interests are the first consideration of the court. Within the context of the family finances their needs must be addressed first. This may have an impact on the housing needs of the parent that they will live with primarily, and will ensure that the income going into that household is sufficient. It does not mean, though, that the needs of the other parent can be overlooked or ignored. The outcome will seek to balance the financial needs which both parents have (housing; food; clothing; holidays); with the available resources (assets; income and pensions) whilst at the same time making proper arrangements for the children’s financial needs.
To reach a position where solutions can be proposed, both parties must set out details of their finances. This can be done either voluntarily, or where there are court proceedings through a form known as Form E. The cases which prove to be most expensive generally include allegations of non-disclosure, and the consequential costs of trying to extract full disclosure. Focusing on achieving full disclosure at an early stage will usually enable early progress to be made.
The earliest any final order can be made – by agreement or otherwise - is after the decree nisi or conditional dissolution order. The latest is after the decree absolute or final dissolution order.
If you would like to arrange an appointment to discuss the divorce process with one of our divorce lawyers or would like divorce advice please email us. Our divorce solicitors are available in all four of our offices - Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich or Norwich.