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Divorce made simple

02 November 2009

Divorce made simpleEditor-at-large, Louisa Cross, guides you through the legal maze.

Accepting or contesting divorce
Returning the petition
The decrees
Stopping a divorce

Assuming you’ve been married for longer than a year, either you or your spouse can start the legal process of divorce by filing a petition with the court. It has to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down in one of five ways, which are:
  • Adultery
  • Behaviour which the other spouse finds unreasonable
  • Two years’ separation and both spouses agree to divorce
  • Five years’ separation without agreement
  • Desertion
Around 75% of divorces are based on adultery and unreasonable behaviour as these are the two routes that don’t require you to be separated for two years or more.

Only minimal details need to be given in the petition as long as there is sufficient information to satisfy the judge that you are entitled to a divorce. If the cause of the marriage breakdown is adultery, for example, it is no longer necessary in most courts to name the co-respondent (the “other” man or woman) and, some say, it’s better not to. Solicitors can advise what is necessary depending on your circumstances.

The petitioner also indicates at this stage whether there will be an application for ancillary relief (financial orders from the court). Importantly, the petitioner must also complete a statement of arrangements for any children, which ideally should be agreed in advance with the other spouse.

Accepting or contesting divorce
Once the petition is received by the other spouse (the respondent) he or she has eight days to return the acknowledgement of service to the court, stating whether he or she agrees to the divorce; intends to defend it; objects to any claim for costs in the petition and, if relevant, agrees with the arrangements for the children.

If the respondent wants to contest the divorce, they have 29 days to file an answer or to file a cross-petition (i.e. if they disagree with any of the statements in the petition). Fewer than 1% of divorces are defended as this can result in long expensive court proceedings with little to gain. If the divorce is based on two years’ separation with consent, the respondent needs to give their agreement.

The respondent can contest a petition based on five years’ separation by arguing that financial matters have to be settled or they will suffer financial disadvantage if the divorce is granted. In that case, the court will have to decide on those matters before the divorce can be finalised.