Going through a divorce or separation can be one of the most stressful periods in your life and if you’re unsure of what the divorce process is, or how it works in practice, then the whole thing can feel a little bit overwhelming.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, was introduced on 6 April 2022, which has completely overhauled the law and now means that one party can start or a couple can jointly start, proceedings without the need to apportion blame or offer a reason for the divorce.

Divorce terminology is also changing too, bringing the process into the 21st century. Making each element of divorce as clear as possible will reduce confusion and help people to understand the process they’re embarking on a little easier.

 

What are the stages of getting a divorce?

Here we break down the process of getting a divorce into seven steps.. Steps one to four explain how to start divorce proceedings. The latter three steps explain the process of completing the divorce.

1. Applying for a divorce

One person or a couple jointly starts the divorce application. This can be done online or via a paper application.

There is now no requirement to give a reason for divorce or blame your partner – it is now largely on the basis of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

2. Reflection Period

The court sends your partner a copy of the application and the new and important 20 week reflection period starts. The new law stipulates a minimum allowable period of 20 weeks between the initial application and the granting of the conditional order, the old decree nisi, and then another six weeks between this and the final order.

While there was some concern that the new legislation would mean ‘quicker/easier’ divorces, this period will mean the shortest divorces will still take at last six months to complete, rather than 3-4 months under the previous law.

3. Conditional Order Application

You apply for a conditional order and decide whether you want to make a financial claim. Within the divorce application, there is a question asking if you want to make a financial claim, i.e. if you want to finalise your financial matters in court after your divorce. Although completing a financial disclosure form is not compulsory for every divorce, it is a useful tool to give both parties a clear understanding of each other’s financial position, as people don’t always know exactly what there is ‘money-wise’ to agree a fair financial split.

Before you even start considering how you’re going to divide things up, it’s important that you are both open and honest with the information you provide about your finances.

Financial disclosure is not part of the divorce application document, but it does tend to be done in parallel to completing the application. You can read more information about financial settlements on the family law section of our website.

4. Application Review

The court reviews your application. Once you’ve filled in your application, you’ll need to send it to the court, along with either your original marriage certificate or an official copy (which you can obtain from the local registrar for around £12). You can find the address of your nearest divorce centre on the gov.uk website. You can also apply for a divorce on-line rather than send in a paper application.

As the applicant(s) you will also need to pay a fee to apply for a divorce (this is currently £550) – the application won’t be issued without a payment being made. Payment can be made via debit or credit card, or by cheque.

Although it is the responsibility of the applicant(s) to pay the fee, people often agree with their ex-partner to share the costs (if they are aware the application is being filed at this stage). If you are on a low income you may be able to get help with the fees, but you will need to make a separate application for this and produce details of your circumstances.

5. Conditional Order

The court grants the conditional order (and the six week cooling off starts). Once you’ve sent your divorce application to the court, your ex-partner will be sent a copy too. As the ‘responder’ they must acknowledge that they have received a copy of the divorce application by signing and returning an acknowledgement of service form to the court. They must do this within seven days of receiving the papers. The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act has removed the option for an ex partner to contest a divorce.

We recommend that you speak to your ex-partner in advance so they’re aware of the reasons you have filed the application and so they can keep an eye out for the papers. This can help prevent a delay with returning the form, which in turn can lead to severe delays with the divorce process and sometimes incur additional costs.

6. Final Order Application

You apply for the final order. The final step in obtaining a divorce takes place six weeks and a day after your final order is pronounced. If you’re the applicant then you will be the one to apply for the final order (the legal document that officially dissolves your marriage) after the ‘six weeks and a day’ period.

7. Final Order Granted

The court grants the final order. It’s important to know that you must file for your final order within a year after your conditional order is granted, otherwise, you’ll have to go through more court proceedings, causing further delays.

 

Can I get divorced if we have just drifted apart?

The introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act in April 2022 now means that no reason has to be given for starting divorce proceedings.  Proceedings can be started by one party or as a couple.  The divorce process generally takes between six and nine months but can take longer if financial matters still need to be agreed upon.

 

Do I have to talk to my ex-partner throughout the divorce process?

You don’t have to, but it might help if you can. It’s always better if you can communicate with your ex-partner – especially if there are children involved. We appreciate that parenting through a divorce or separation is not easy. Even though you’ll no longer be married, you’ll both still want to act in the best interests of your children, so if you can retain some form of a relationship, it’s better for everybody. It also helps to maintain some level of communication with your ex-partner when negotiating financial settlements.

However, we appreciate that this isn’t always possible. If it’s hard to talk to them, or your divorce is as a result of a domestic abuse case, then don’t put yourself in an uncomfortable or compromising position. That’s where our divorce solicitors can work with you to try and reduce the stress and pressures surrounding the process, protect your interests, and seek a positive and prompt solution that works for you.

 

Can I get a divorce if my partner doesn’t want to?

Yes. Divorce proceedings, following the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, can be started by one party or by both parties.

 

Will my partner get 50% of our assets, even if they have cheated?

In England, the courts will always start with a 50/50 split of assets. But there are a number of instances where this may not be the case, such as the length of the marriage/civil partnership, large sums of inheritance or money generated after separation and sometimes generated pre-marriage and whether there are children. Fault – such as one partner cheating – has no bearing on the division of assets.

 

What am I entitled to in a divorce settlement?

This depends on a variety of factors i.e. the length and duration of the marriage, who the children will live with, what the matrimonial pot of assets consists of, what the respective income positions of the parties look like, and the age of the parties, to name but a few.

Once you have gone through the process of full and frank financial disclosure, a specialist divorce lawyer will be able to tell you what a Judge might consider being a fair financial settlement in your case. The starting point is for there to be an equal division of all matrimonial assets which includes assets in joint names but also any assets in the sole names of each party.

Visit our divorce financial settlements solicitors page to learn more about how we can support you.

Will I have to split my pension if we divorce?

With the change to a “no fault” divorce process, more parties are attempting the process themselves and in doing so, forgoing major financial claims, especially when it comes to pensions. If you are attempting a DIY divorce, you should be aware that pension sharing is one of the options available, providing for a clean break as the pension assets are split immediately.

If your combined pensions are worth over £100,000 the Pensions Advisory Group suggests that a pension report, prepared by a pension expert, is likely to be necessary. A pension expert or pension on divorce expert (PODE) is a financial adviser who are specialists that focus on the impact of divorce on pensions. They ensure that your pensions are evaluated and divided fairly and will produce a report, known as a Pension Sharing Report.

If one of you has been at stay at home carer for the children whereas the other party has been in employment, contributing to a work-based pension for numerous years, the employed party will likely have a substantially larger pension when compared to the stay at home parent.

In that scenario, to equalise pension income upon retirement, a pension expert could be instructed to produce a report and provide a percentage figure for how much the employed party will need to transfer from their pension pot, into the primary carer’s pension, to ensure both of you have sufficient pension income upon retirement.

It is therefore important not to brush pensions under the carpet as to do so, could mean you are neglecting a critical part of your future financial security. Engaging with a specialist family lawyer who can instruct a pension expert can make a material difference in ensuring that your financial interests are protected and that pension assets are divided fairly.

 

 

Do I have to give my engagement ring back if we divorce?

This is a particularly common divorce question we encounter. If you break up with your partner, you may feel a moral obligation to return the ring – however, unless it can be proved that the ring was given conditionally, the law states that it is an absolute gift, meaning you do not have to return it to your ex.

But when it comes to household contents, also known as ‘chattels’ this is an area that is best dealt with directly between the parties as costs can quickly escalate when this issue is negotiated through solicitors. However, when high-value jewellery is involved, these items can cause conflict.

Wedding and engagement rings in particular can hold both monetary and emotional value, and the giver of those rings may believe that they are entitled to half the value, or even to have them returned.

In law, the giving of a ring is presumed to be a gift, and therefore it does not have to be returned. There may be an argument if an engagement is broken off, that the ring was given on the condition that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place. However, even though unfair, the recipient is not obliged to return it.

However, if the ring is of very significant value, this figure may be taken into account as part of the overall settlement.

 

Does social media cause divorce?

A recent study found that social media can be a factor in one in seven divorces. When going through a divorce, it can be easy to be tempted to post about how we’re feeling on social media so we’ve put together a complete guide on what to do and what not to do on social media when going through a divorce. View our guide here >>

 

Do I need to appoint a solicitor?

While it is possible to get a divorce without the support of a solicitor, you may run the risk of missing important legal loopholes, such as the ‘remarriage trap’. Put simply; if you remarry without a claim for a financial order you may be barred from seeking maintenance and other financial claims. You may also find yourself out of pocket down the line. Without full legal severance, it is possible that an ex-partner could chase you for a share of funds you may accrue later in life – whether that be a pension pot, inheritance or even a lottery win!

 

We’re not married, but we’ve been together for years – will I get 50%?

There is no such thing as a ‘common law wife/partner’. Cohabiting couples frequently believe that living with somebody for a prolonged period of time leads to certain legal rights such as a share of property owned by one party – it does not. If you choose not to marry then do consider a living together agreement to protect your best interests.

 

What happens during a divorce if the couple has a prenuptial agreement?

The court will consider whether to give effect to a prenuptial agreement if it is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications. 

The key question is fairness. To establish this, the court will query whether the agreement was entered into freely and if the parties were aware of the implications of the agreement. It must be fair to hold the parties to the agreement in the circumstances prevailing, this will include whether any children have been born.

 

Our five top tips for going through a divorce

1. Remain civil and amicable

Keep discussions regarding the divorce and financial matters away from children. Emotions will understandably be running high but it’s essential that children do not pick up on any parental discord. Remaining civil and amicable with an ex-partner in the presence of the children can make the divorce process less traumatic for everyone involved.

2. Take care during any conversations

Assume any text message, conversation or email exchange with an ex-partner will be shown to a Judge. Stop and think before sending an angry message in the heat of the moment, as this could be regretted later down the line.

3. Consult a lawyer before any major decisions

Avoid making any drastic decisions such as leaving the family home or clearing out a bank account without consulting a divorce lawyer, as this could adversely affect the case.

4. Keep a diary of events

Divorces are an emotional and unstable time, meaning it can be hard to keep track of important events which may need to be relied upon later down the line. Keeping a diary and documenting everything is one way to ensure all essential information is on hand. For example, if an ex-partner misses a contact session or they tell you they will be opening a new bank account in their sole name, make a note.

5. Outline specific objectives

Defining goals can help keep the divorce process on track.

If retaining a pension is the main priority, then informing a divorce lawyer during the initial appointment would be a wise move. If the aim is to remain in the former family home, thinking about whether that goal is realistic and achievable is essential.

Neither party will ever come away from a divorce with absolutely everything that they wanted, so it’s important from the outset to decide what’s most important and what can be lived without.

 

How we guide you through the divorce process

The complicated part of the divorce process is not the dissolving of the marriage, but dealing with issues surrounding it such as those involving children or finances.

Our team of family lawyers can help support you and advise on the options available to complete your divorce process, whether this is making child arrangements and ensuring that the disruption and emotional stress is kept to a minimum, or securing the best financial settlement for you to secure your future.

The process of divorce can be emotional and the actions you take in the early stages can set the tone for everything that follows. If you’re about to start divorce proceedings either jointly or separately, or currently going through the separation process, then speak to one of our divorce lawyers. We’re here to guide you through the maze of emotions and legal responsibilities, every step of the way.

Helpful Resources:

  1. What happens after you apply
  2. Citizen’s Advice on getting a divorce
  3. Check if you’re eligible for Legal Aid

Get In Touch

Helen has over twenty years’ experience in advising clients in relation to family law issues. She has particular expertise in representing clients with substantial wealth and has many cases involving family businesses, trusts and farms.

Katherine has achieved her exceptional track record of securing the best possible outcomes for her clients, including cases involving children, business interests, trusts and inherited wealth.

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Published: 26th March 2024
Area: Divorce

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