Experiencing a breakdown of a marriage can be an emotional and upsetting time for most people. It is important that someone going through a divorce feels supported by the people around them throughout the process. The process of a divorce may take between four and six months for straightforward cases, however, it can take years to finalise a more complex divorce where the parties are unwilling to cooperate. The coronavirus pandemic has also caused delays in the divorce process.
The first step of a divorce is to issue a divorce petition which requires a court fee of £550 to be paid. The person who files the divorce petition is known as the ‘petitioner’ and the other party is the ‘respondent’. Commonly, the petitioner sends the divorce petition to the respondent prior to filing it with the court, although it is not necessary, it is a more amicable way to start divorce proceedings. A divorce petition includes details about both parties, as well as the marriage and the reason for divorce. In the United Kingdom, a divorce is only granted on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage based on one of five facts: unreasonable behaviour; adultery; two-years separation with consent; five-year separation without consent; or desertion.
Once the petitioner has filed the divorce petition with the court, the court sends the petition to the respondent who must file an acknowledgement of service within seven days of receipt. An acknowledgment of service is a form to confirm the respondent has received the petition, accepts the reasons the petitioner cited for the divorce, and whether they agree or contest the divorce. Once the court receives the respondent’s acknowledgement of service, they will forward a copy to the petitioner.
Following this, the petitioner may file for a decree nisi which is the first of the two decrees. The petitioner will also file a statement in support of an application for divorce at this time to provide further information regarding your divorce petition. This will include details such as whether the respondent is continuing to behave unreasonably, whether the petitioner wishes to amend or add to the divorce petition, and so on. Usually, a district judge will review the decree nisi and if they agree with the divorce, the decree nisi will become pronounced and a pronouncement date will be given. From this date, the petitioner must wait six weeks and one day before applying for the decree absolute which finalises the divorce. If a petitioner does not apply for the decree absolute within three months from the earliest date they were entitled to apply from, the respondent may apply to court for the decree absolute.
In the divorce petition, the parties should select whether they intend to apply for a financial order. A Notice of an application for a financial order (Form A) is the initial step in obtaining a financial order. If the parties divorcing have agreed on how to share the matrimonial assets, this agreement should be put in writing. In order to make the agreement legally binding and enforceable, a solicitor should use the agreement to draft a consent order that both parties sign. The consent order should be sent along with the Form A.
If the parties require the assistance of the court to determine a financial remedy, the court will arrange a First Directions Appointment (FDA). Five weeks prior to the FDA, the parties will exchange a Form E document which is a financial statement containing all the financial details of the party including income and expenditure presently and in the future. A fortnight before the FDA, both parties should file a statement of issues; a chronology of events; a questionnaire raising issues in the other party’s Form E; and a Form G which confirms whether the parties feel the FDA can also be used as the Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDR) which commonly takes place at a later date. Immediately prior to the FDA, both parties will file a Form H which details the legal costs they have incurred thus far.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most FDAs now take place remotely via Skype Business or Microsoft Teams. At the FDA, the judge will consider the evidence filed and will determine whether further information is required. The judge will also set a timeline for the submission of any further documentation and a date for the FDR. Prior to the FDR, both parties should file the requested documentation along with an updated Form H. At the FDR hearing, the judge encourages the parties to agree to a financial settlement between themselves, however, if this is not possible, the judge will set a date for the final hearing. At the final hearing, a different judge will consider all the evidence provided, including updated discussions, proposed settlements, and the parties’ Form H1s which provide updated legal costs incurred. The new judge will determine the financial settlement and whether an order as to costs should be made and in favour of whom.