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How to get a divorce

Many people fear that getting divorced will be expensive, take a long time and result in a lot of conflict and stress. However, with the right legal advice and support, the divorce process can usually be kept relatively fast and affordable. By taking a non-confrontational approach it is also normally possible to keep things amicable and avoid any unnecessary emotional fallout.

Our divorce lawyers have decades of experience helping people to navigate all of the issues involved in the breakdown of a marriage. In that time, we have found there are a number of questions that people always ask, including: “how do I start divorce proceedings?”, “how long will my divorce take?” and, of course, “how much is this all going to cost?”.

To take some of the confusion out of divorce proceedings, we have set out to answer all of the common questions and concerns our clients typically have. That way, you’ll be able to move forward with a much better idea of exactly what to expect when getting divorced.

Do you have a question that this guide doesn’t answer or simply want to find out more about how we can help you through your divorce? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The divorce process explained

There are various parts to the process of getting divorced, including both the legal proceedings to end your marriage, as well as the separate matter of making a financial settlement and arrangements for any children you have.

In most cases, there is no need to go to court for any part of your divorce. However, this will depend on how contentious the issues involved are, including the reasons for the breakdown of your marriage, how your finances should be divided and where any children you have together should live.

Divorce proceedings

To legally end your marriage, you will need to go through the following steps:

Filing for divorce

One or both spouses will need to fill out a divorce petition explaining your reasons for believing your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This will then need to be submitted to the relevant local family court. The spouse who initiates proceedings in this way is known as the ‘petitioner’.

You can find details of your local divorce court based on your postcode using the government’s court and tribunal finder.

As of May 2018, you can now fill out the petition and apply for your divorce online.

Responding to a divorce petition

When the court receives a divorce petition, they will send a copy to the other spouse named in the petition, who is referred to as the ‘respondent’.

The respondent will then have 8 days to reply to the court stating whether they accept the divorce and the reasons given for it in the petition, or if they wish to contest the divorce.

If the respondent wants to challenge the petition (known as ‘defending the divorce’) they will then have a further 21 days to inform the court in writing of their reasons for doing so.

Attending a court hearing

If the respondent chooses to defend the divorce, you may have to go to court for a hearing. A judge will then listen to submissions from both spouses (and usually their solicitors), before making a decision over whether the divorce can go ahead or not.

However, in most cases defended divorces can be resolved without the need to attend a court hearing. This can be achieved using alternative dispute resolution, allowing the spouses to sit down in a non-confrontational environment and agree a mutually acceptable way forward.

There are various options for this type of non-confrontational dispute resolution, including  negotiations with the assistance of both parties’ lawyers and working with a neutral third-party mediator.

Receiving the ‘decree nisi’

If the respondent does not defend the divorce, or a judge decides to grant the divorce at a hearing, the court will then issue a ‘decree nisi’.

This is a court order saying that the court sees no reason why your divorce cannot go ahead and is essential to allow proceedings to move to the final stage.

Applying for the decree absolute

Once the decree nisi is issued, the petitioner will need to wait for at least 43 days (six weeks and a day) and then they will be able to apply for the ‘decree absolute’. This is the legal document that states that your marriage is officially over, leaving you free to move on, remarry and in all other ways live as a single person.

Both spouses will receive a copy of the decree absolute, which is needed for various issues, such as if you later want to get married again or otherwise have to prove that your marriage has ended.

If, for any reason, the respondent needs to apply for the decree absolute instead of the petitioner, they will need to wait an additional 3 months to do so, on top of the standard 43 days.

If you later need to get a copy of decree absolute, you can do so by applying to the original court that handled your divorce. You will need your case number and will have to pay a small fee (£10 as of September 2018) for the application process.

Making a divorce financial settlement

The job of sorting out and dividing your finances usually happens at the same time as divorce proceedings, although it is a completely separate process.

Even where your finances are fairly complex, it is usually possible to agree a divorce settlement without needing to go to court. This is most commonly done through mediation, allowing you to discuss all of the issues involved in a non-confrontational way with the help of a mediator acting as a neutral third-party to defuse conflict and keep things on track.

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree a settlement, you may need to apply to a court to decide for you. This will involve attending a court hearing where a judge will listen to submissions from both parties, then decide on a settlement.

In order to have your divorce settlement decided in court, you will normally need to show that you have at least considered mediation first by attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).

Making arrangements for children during divorce

If you and your ex-partner have children together, you will need to decide where they will live, how they will be supported and what contact they will have with the non-resident parent.

Again, this can be decided through mediation or other non-confrontational means in most cases and you will typically need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before being allowed to apply to a court for assistance making a decision.

Arrangement for children can either be made at the same time as agreeing a financial settlement or as an entirely separate process.

Other issues to think about when getting divorced

Updating your Will

It is usually a good idea to create a new Will when separating or getting divorced to ensure the change in your relationship status is reflected. This can help to ensure your estate goes to your children or other loved ones in the event of your death, rather than your former partner.

Transferring ownership of your home

If you and your partner own a home together, it will usually be necessary to remove one of your names from the title of the property. You will also need to speak to your mortgage provider, who may be willing to let you transfer the mortgage into the remaining occupant’s name, or you may need to remortgage.

Protecting your financial security when moving on to a new relationship

If you intend to move in with a new partner or remarry, it may be worth considering creating a cohabitation agreement or pre-nuptial agreement.

This can give you certainty over what will happen if your new relationship does not work out and ensure your future financial security (and that of your children and any other dependants).

Speak to our expert divorce lawyers in Bristol today

We guide people all across the UK through every aspect of divorce from our six offices in Bristol and the surrounding area, located in Bedminster, Clifton, Horfield, Kingswood, Queen Square and Thornbury.

Get in touch with our highly experienced divorce solicitors in Bristol now by calling 0117 325 2929 or using our online enquiry form.

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