How to get a divorce

My relationship has ended- what do I need to do?

Once one or both of you have decided that your relationship is over you will be faced with a lot of other decisions. You will need to decide who moves out; make short term financial arrangements; decide what to say to friends and family and how to tell your children. In the longer term, you will need to take steps to legally end the relationship and separate your joint finances.

  • If you are married you may be thinking about obtaining a divorce or a legal separation.

  • If you are in a civil partnership you will be seeking a dissolution of the partnership.

  • If you have been living together you will not need to obtain a legal ending to the relationship but you may still need to resolve what happens to any property you share a tenancy of or jointly own.

  • You will also need to decide how to achieve a financial settlement, including pensions and how you will jointly continue to parent your children.

Do I Need a Solicitor?

You do not need either a solicitor or mediator to bring about a legal end to your relationship (unless your application is going to be contested, which is unusual and costly).

Doing it yourself will save you time and money and, if you can continue to communicate directly with one another rather than through a solicitor it will help you later when you come to make some of the important practical decisions that follow on from the ending of a relationship.

How do I get a divorce?

If you are married you will have a choice about whether to divorce or legally separate. Most marriages end in divorce but in certain circumstances (for example if you have been married less than a year or there are religious reasons for not wanting a divorce) you may prefer a legal separation.

If you are in a civil partnership you will be seeking a dissolution of the partnership.

It is possible to make your own application for a divorce directly to the courts. You can obtain the necessary documents free of charge from your local court. These days, there is a lot of advice available on line to help you with this. It is also possible to use a solicitor for help with some aspects of the process (for example, deciding which are the best grounds to use and completing the form) but doing the rest yourself.

What are the grounds for a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership?

To obtain a divorce or to dissolve a civil partnership you will need to prove that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. The Courts accept one of the following 5 reasons as evidence of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage -

  1. Adultery
    Adultery is a specific legal term relating to heterosexual sex. If you are ending a civil partnership because your partner has been unfaithful the grounds for dissolution would instead be "unreasonable behaviour".
  2. Your partner has behaved unreasonably.
  3. Your partner deserted you at least two years ago.
  4. You've lived apart for at least two years if you both agree to the divorce.
  5. You've lived apart for at least five years if one of you doesn’t agree to the divorce.

How long does a divorce take?

4-6 months depending upon all parties co-operating and complying with the court timetable.

If you name a Co-Respondent in an adultery petition they also have to be served and respond to the court papers which may have the effect of delay.

The court do not require you to name the Co-Respondent if the petition will proceed by agreement.

How do I start divorce proceedings?

You will need to issue a divorce petition in your local County Court and pay the court fee.

It is best, if you can, to agree the grounds for the divorce between you before proceeding. You can also agree who will pay the costs and whether they should be shared between you.

How much does divorce cost?

It is very rare to have a defended divorce as the cost, possibly £10,000 each, is difficult to justify.

A divorce petition that will proceed undefended only potentially requires the petitioner to be represented and the costs can be shared.

Solicitors will charge normally a fixed fee for just the divorce to decree absolute plus the court fee If you represent yourself for the divorce itself the cost is only the court fee, which can be shared.

Can I get Legal Aid?

Legal Aid is generally not available for help with any aspect of a divorce but there are certain circumstances in which it might be and where you should seek urgent legal advice. These include situations where-

  • you are at risk of becoming homeless because of the relationship breakdown;
  • you are at risk of domestic violence or abuse
  • you suspect your partner may be hiding or disposing of assets that belong to both of you
  • you are worried that your partner may be taking the children out of the country.

What do I need to do about the children or our finances?

In order to permanently end the relationship, you will also need to satisfy the courts that you have made suitable arrangements in respect of your finances and for any children of the relationship. The courts prefer if you can reach agreements yourself, either through mediation or with the help of your solicitor, but they will want to be satisfied that such arrangements have been made.

If you have been living together but were not married, the legal situation is different. Although many of the decisions you need to make (about children and finances) will be the same the law will not apply to you in the same way. Many people still refer to ‘common law marriage’ as if it confers the same or similar rights as a legal marriage but this is not the case – no matter how long you have been together.

In mediation, however you make your own decisions and whilst you need to know what the legal position is you are not bound to make the same decisions that a court might make.

There is a lot of useful, detailed information available on line for helping you to understand your different rights and the legal processes which you need to follow. We have included links to some useful websites in the "useful links" section of this page.

Do I need the courts to make an order?

Whatever your legal situation, a mediator will help you to reach your own agreements about finance, property and the children and will write these up for you in the form of an agreement.

If you have been able to agree arrangements for the children there is generally no need for an order as the courts prefer not to get involved. However, you can take steps to convert your own parenting plan into a legally binding document if you feel that you need to. A word of caution though – children’s needs and your own circumstances are likely to change and a Court Order can only reflect the situation at a given time. A mediated agreement can be renegotiated as circumstances change in a way that a Court Order cannot.

If your agreement involves decisions about finance and property you will eventually need a solicitor to convert this agreement into what is called a consent order which can then be put before the courts and made into a Final Order. This then becomes a legally binding document. Your mediator will explain all of this to you during the process and will advise you if and when you need to involve a solicitor.

Mediators need to make sure that you have taken appropriate legal advice and understand your legal rights before entering any agreement – but the big difference is that mediation brings you together to make the decisions that are right for you. This saves time and money and helps to keep the communication going between you, which is particularly important if you have children.

How do I find/choose a solicitor?

Find a Solicitor is a free service offered by the Law Society for anyone looking for information about organisations or people providing legal services in England and Wales that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Members of Resolution sign up to a Code of Practice which supports a non-confrontational approach to family law.

If you are eligible for legal aid for mediation you may be entitled to some free legal advice in support of mediation as well – but you will need to check that your solicitor can offer legal aid in family matters.

How much does a solicitor charge?

Solicitors charge an hourly rate based upon their seniority and location, it being more expensive to instruct a solicitor in London than in a county town or suburb.

  • They are obliged to tell you how much they are charging.
  • It is reasonable to ask different solicitors for their charging rates to compare costs before deciding who to go with.
  • It is important to be aware that Solicitors will then usually charge you for each letter, email, and telephone call they make on your behalf, for reading and considering the papers and for attendances at Court at 6 minute units. So, if they are charging £200 per hour every 6-minute unit will cost you £20. What some of our clients have not realised is - the more you contact the solicitor the more you lose control of your costs as they will be charging not just for talking to you but for anything they then feel they have to do as a result – e.g. writing a letter to the other party’s solicitor.
  • It is also important to remember that you cannot directly control the level of contact between your Solicitor and other people- if the other party’s solicitor writes to yours for example you will be charged for time spent reading the letter and responding.
  • Solicitors will expect you to pay a monthly standing order based on an estimate and then to invoice for additional costs. You should make sure that they invoice you regularly so that you know how much you are spending.

What to expect from your solicitor

Many solicitors will make some attempt initially to resolve issues through negotiation with one another on behalf of the parties and will take a wider view of your situation, considering the interests of all concerned, and particularly the children.

Ultimately though, your solicitor is there to represent your interests as an individual and not the shared concerns of parents. Their job is to explain the law to you and to make sure you understand what your rights are.

They can, if you need them to, guide you through the legal process of divorce and separation. They should know how local courts and judges are likely to view situations and what kinds of decisions are possible in your case.

They cannot tell you exactly what will happen as there is no formula that will tell you exactly what the courts will decide.

Your solicitor is there to give you advice, but not to tell you what to do, or to make decisions for you.

Not every solicitor will be able to offer you legal aid as they need to have a contract with the Legal Aid Board.

A solicitor who can offer legal aid can also help by supporting you through mediation - a certain level of legal help can be obtained free if you are in receipt of Legal Aid for mediation and have started the process.

How do I find/choose a mediator?

The Family Mediation Council operates a framework for professional standards and regulation for family mediators and provides a free Find a Mediator searchable database of all FMC Accredited Mediators in England and Wales.

Only FMC Accredited Mediators are allowed to provide the full range of family mediation services, including those funded by Legal Aid.

How much will a mediator charge?

Again, costs will vary according to the mediation provider and you should request information about costs before choosing who to use.

Legal Aid is still available for mediation for those who are financially eligible.

The government provides a free on line check for those who think they may qualify for legal aid for a divorce.

Our fees for private clients are (2017 prices) based on £100 per hour plus VAT which means that the cost of an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting ( MIAM) will be £100 plus VAT and a joint mediation meeting will cost £150 plus VAT. Charges are per person.

We do not charge for ongoing correspondence once you are in mediation so there are no hidden costs.

Sometimes, we all decide that two mediators will be necessary. We will explain this to you before your first appointment and agree a small additional charge – at present £30 an hour.

We may also charge a one-off document fee of £150 for writing up your final agreement in a format that can then be readily converted into a consent order. We would discuss this with you as an option and you could choose if you wanted this service.

For example,a mediation involving two MIAMS and 2 joint meetings would cost £450 plus VAT per person- a total cost of £900 without the document fee.

What to expect from your mediator

Your mediator is there to support you both to have the discussions that need to take place for you to reach agreements about the future. This can include any or all the matters that need to be decided once a relationship ends.

Mediators are trained to help you to understand what is important to you and to your children and what is possible – both in terms of what the law would suggest that you do and what fits best with your own circumstances.

Mediators are experts in understanding and working with conflict and in helping you to find a way through it.

We would see each of you separately first to make sure we understand what you are trying to achieve and what is most important to you. We will also want to make sure we are aware of any concerns you have about meeting face to face and how we can help you to express yourself clearly and get your point across.

If we all agree that mediation is the best way forward for you we will bring you together to a meeting in which we agree what the issues are to be resolved and you each get an opportunity to say what it is you want and why. We encourage you both to listen to what the other person has to say and to think carefully about what is best for you both and for your children.

Joint meetings usually last about an hour and a half and we can always take a break if you need one- or we sometimes talk with you separately for part of the meeting if you are finding it too difficult to be in the same room together.

Once everyone has understood what needs to be decided we will start to collect all the information you need to make your decisions. If there are financial decisions to be made which include property or other assets we will explain to you what you need to complete what is called full financial disclosure- a process that is necessary for the courts to be sure that you have understood the situation properly and that nothing is being hidden.

If you have a solicitor we will check what advice you have been given and what you think the courts might decide if you were unable to reach agreement. This is important because it may influence what you feel able to agree to in mediation. If you have not had legal advice or if we feel you may have misunderstood something your solicitor has told you, we will suggest you check something with your solicitor before coming back to the next session.

Sometimes one mediation session is all you need – particularly if you are already in agreement about a lot of the issues, or if there is just one issue to be resolved. Most of the couples we see though will come back for 2 or 3 meetings before we get to the final agreement stage.

Article by
Marilyn Webster

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