Divorce and settling the finances
Our divorce solicitors offer expert divorce, mediation and separation advice.
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Our experienced and approachable divorce solicitors have unprecedented knowledge on divorce and separation rights. Your individual circumstances are important to us and the first thing we will do is listen.
How to get a divorce | a step by step guide
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.
New legislation, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, was introduced on the 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 offering 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.
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.
Step 1 | 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.
Step 2 | 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.
Step 3 | 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.
A 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.
Step 4 | 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.
Step 5 | 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.
Step 6 | 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.
Step 7 | 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.
Guiding 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.
Settling the financial arrangements
Alongside the divorce process itself, you will also wish to reach a financial resolution in relation to the breakdown of your marriage. The aim of a financial settlement is to divide the marital assets and resources fairly, so that you can move forward independently, whilst being able to meet your income and housing needs for you and any children of the family. Whatever the extent of your wealth, you will need an expert to advise you on what you are entitled to and protect your interests. If a financial order is not made and approved by the court, you may leave yourself open to a claim in the future. This is particularly important if you later inherit or come into a large sum of money.
The Court take various matters into account when considering what orders should be made when dividing the marital assets. The Court considers all the circumstances of a case, gives first consideration to the welfare of any children of the family under the age of 16 and, in particular, the Court pays regard to the following matters:-
- The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future including, in the case of earning capacity, any increase in that capacity which would be in the opinion of the Court reasonable to expect a person to take steps to acquire.
- The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
- The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage.
- The ages of each spouse and the duration of the marriage.
- Any physical and mental disability of each spouse.
- Contributions which each spouse has made or is likely to make in the foreseeable future to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family.
- The conduct of each spouse, if that conduct is such that it would be in the opinion of the Court to be inequitable to disregard.
- The value to each spouse of any benefit which one spouse because of a divorce will lose his chance of acquiring (most usually pension provision).
There are a number of ways of reaching a financial settlement upon divorce, including Mediation, collaborative law, solicitor led negotiations, and, where it is not possible to reach an agreement by consent, an application to the Court. An application to the Court does not need to be considered a hostile approach. It is often necessary to make an application to secure a timetable for resolution. It does not mean you cannot still work towards achieving a financial settlement by agreement. Our solicitors have experience of high-net-worth individuals involving multi-million pound settlements, through to cases where the assets are limited and difficult decisions need to made to ensure the children of the family are protected. We have a range of expertise in tracking down ‘missing assets’ and making urgent applications to prevent the dissipation of assets, and we work closely with other skilled professionals to ensure you have the correct information available to you to reach a financial settlement best suited to the circumstances of your case. Our highly skilled solicitors will represent you robustly to ensure your future needs are at the forefront of negotiations, whichever process you choose.
In circumstances where you have reached an agreement on how you intend to divide your assets and you do not require the advice of our solicitors, but require assistance to draft the required Consent Order and accompanying documents to be approved by the Court, we offer competitive fixed fee prices so you can be sure your agreement is water tight and legally binding.