How to initiate a divorce in England and Wales

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Ending a marriage or civil partnership can be profoundly challenging, emotionally and legally. In England and Wales, the process for initiating a divorce or dissolution has evolved to become more straightforward with the introduction of the no-fault divorce system in April 2022.

Expert Family Law has a panel of specialist divorce lawyers who can provide guidance on how to initiate a divorce. Our panel firms can also help you start the divorce proceedings and guide you through the process with as little stress as possible.

Understanding the no-fault divorce system

The significant shift to a no-fault divorce system marks a move away from the necessity to assign blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Under this system, the essential requirement remains the same: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. However, the process is now more straightforward:

No-fault basis:

Couples can now file for divorce without the need to prove one party is at fault as grounds for divorce. This means there’s no requirement to cite reasons such as adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or periods of separation.

Joint application option:

Spouses have the option to make a joint divorce application, demonstrating their mutual decision to dissolve the marriage. This is aimed at reducing conflict and making the process more amicable. However, a sole application can also be made by one spouse.

Cooling-off period:

There is now a minimum period of reflection between the initial filing and the finalisation of the divorce. This gives both parties time to ensure that divorce is the right decision and to make arrangements for finances and childcare.

The no-fault divorce system is designed to foster a more constructive approach to marriage dissolution, focusing on the future well-being of both parties and any children involved.

How to initiate a divorce: Preparing for divorce

Applying for a divorce, even under the no-fault system, requires careful preparation. Here are key steps to consider:

  • Legal advice: Consulting with a solicitor who specialises in family law can provide invaluable insights into your rights and options. This can help you navigate the divorce process more effectively. It is important to note that legal aid may be available to cover the solicitors‘ costs in specific circumstances, such as cases involving domestic abuse.
  • Financial planning: Assessing and organising your financial situation is a critical part of the divorce process. Gather all relevant financial documents, including bank statements, investment records, and details of any debts and assets. This preparation will be crucial for discussions about the division of money and property.
  • Child arrangements: If you have children, their well-being and living arrangements should be a priority. Consider how you and your spouse will manage parenting responsibilities and how you’ll address this in your divorce application.

How to initiate a divorce: Filing the Divorce Petition

Initiating the divorce process involves completing and submitting a divorce application form. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Application form: The Courts and Tribunal Service have now made applying online possible for divorce cases. You will need to provide details about your marriage and confirm that it has irretrievably broken down.
  • Fees: As the petitioner, you will be required to pay a fee for divorce. However, you may be eligible for a reduction or exemption based on your financial situation.
  • Serving the petition: Once filed, the Court will send a certified copy of the divorce application.

Responding to the Divorce Petition

Once the divorce application is filed and served, the next step involves the response from the other spouse:

  • Acknowledgment: The spouse receiving the divorce application (respondent) must provide an acknowledgement of service and indicate whether they agree to the divorce. This should be done using an Acknowledgement of Service form. Under the no-fault system, the grounds for contesting a divorce are limited. They focus more on disputes regarding jurisdiction or the validity of the marriage itself rather than the reasons for the divorce.
  • Joint applications: If the divorce application was made jointly, this step shows a mutual agreement to proceed, simplifying the process further.

Next steps

Following acknowledgment by the respondent, the process moves forward:

Conditional Order:

After the acknowledgment, the applicant can apply for a ‘Conditional Order.’ This is the first of two main legal documents in the divorce process. This document confirms the court’s recognition that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Final Order:

Six weeks and one day after the Conditional Order, the applicant can apply for the Final Order. This will legally end the marriage. It’s essential to resolve all financial matters and arrangements for children before applying for this order.

Financial matters and child arrangements

Concluding financial and child matters during a divorce process involves several key steps. It id a complex area, requiring careful negotiation. In many cases, legal assistance is vital to ensure the interests and well-being of all parties, especially children, are protected.

Financial Settlements

Disclosure:

Both parties must fully disclose their financial circumstances. This includes income, assets, liabilities, and pensions. Full and frank disclosure is essential for a fair settlement.

Negotiation:

The next step is to negotiate a financial settlement. This can be done directly between the parties, through solicitors, or via mediation. The aim is to reach an agreement on how to divide assets and liabilities. It will take into account both parties’ future needs.

Consent Order:

Once an agreement is reached, it’s formalised in a document called a Consent Order. This is then submitted to the court for approval. The Consent Order outlines the financial agreement and, once approved by a judge, becomes legally binding.

Court Orders:

If an agreement cannot be reached, either party can apply to the court for financial orders. This might include orders for maintenance, lump sum payments, property adjustment, or pension sharing. The court will make a decision based on a range of factors. This may include each party’s needs, the standard of living during the marriage, and the duration of the marriage.

Child Arrangements

Best Interests of the child:

All decisions regarding children are made with their best interests as the primary consideration. This includes decisions about where the children will live (residence) and how much time they will spend with each parent (contact).

Parental agreement:

Ideally, parents will agree on arrangements for their children without court intervention. You can achieve this through direct discussion, mediation, or with the help of solicitors. The agreement should cover daily care, education, health issues, and contact with the non-resident parent.

Child Arrangement Orders:

If parents cannot agree, either can apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order. The court will consider various factors. These include the child’s wishes and feelings, physical, emotional, and educational needs. It will also consider the potential effect of any change in circumstances on the child.

Specific Issue and Prohibited Steps Orders:

These are orders that can be applied for if there are specific disputes. For example, which school a child should attend.

How can Expert Family Law assist?

Understanding how to initiate a divorce can be incredibly daunting. Our family law solicitors can assist you with every stage of the of divorce.

We ensure that the law firms on our panel have the skills and experience required to assist with your legal case.

Get in touch today to find out if a divorce solicitor from our panel could help on your case.

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