When a marriage or a civil partnership breaks down, irretrievably, both partners may want to have the union legally dissolved, and that’s where divorce proceedings come in. Of course, deciding to do this has never been easy, especially if there are children involved. But when things get to a certain level, divorce has always been the only way out. Now, during a divorce, there are normally other issues that will need to be resolved as well, including child arrangements as well as financial matters. In the past, it did take a lot of time to settle some of these issues, but with the new law that came into effect on 6th April 2022, the timeframes within which the process is to be completed were set, and so is the introduction of no-fault divorce, which we will look at in this guide. Now, for any divorce filed prior to this date, the previous laws will apply, but if a divorce was filed on or after this date, the new rules will apply.
Divorce petitions in the UK
County Courts and the High Court are the ones that deal with divorce or dissolution petitions in the UK. If the divorce is not jointly filed, the spouse that files the petition is known as the applicant, while the one who gets served becomes the respondent. Also, one of the partners, if not both, must be living in the country, to be able to file for a divorce in the country.
What are the grounds for divorce?
As we’ve already mentioned, to be able to obtain a divorce, the marriage must be irretrievably broken, which means that the marriage has ended permanently and that it cannot be fixed at all. Now, under the previous law, the applicant would have been asked to confirm that the marriage has indeed broken down, by proving to the judge that either of the following has happened:
- You have been separated for over two years with consent to file for divorce
- Five years of separation
- Unreasonable and uncontrollable behaviour
One would have had to provide documentation proving these grounds before being granted the divorce. This is no longer the case though. The divorce is already emotionally draining as it is, and so, trying to dive deeper into why the partners are divorcing would pretty much uncover some of the ‘healing wounds’. However, in other proceedings such as child arrangements, some of these grounds will have to be mentioned, especially if there has been abuse or any other safety concerns.
Other changes in the divorce law
As we mentioned earlier, there were significant changes made to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020, including:
- Removal of the ‘five facts’ – as per the law now, as long as the marriage has irretrievably broken down, one can be granted a divorce. So, basically, as we already mentioned, one needed to prove any of the five facts before being granted a divorce, but with the new law, you simply don’t need to. All one has to provide is a statement that shows the irretrievable breakdown, which the court must admit without any further evidence or statement being made.
- Grounds for application disputes were also narrowed – now, in line with removing the ‘five facts’, the new law also narrowed the grounds in which the respondents can dispute the divorce petition. Under the previous law, as it was, the respondent could have easily disputed the petition if he or she was in disagreement with the fact being relied upon. This did result in very heated and ugly divorces, something that could have easily left the kids traumatised. But with the new law, the respondents now have limited grounds in which they contest the divorce, including validity, jurisdiction, fraud, procedural non-compliance, or, the subsistence of the marriage. But the respondent won’t be able to dispute whether or not the marriage has really broken down.
- The spouses can now file for the divorce jointly – now the partners can now apply for the divorce jointly or solely. When they do it jointly, they will be referred to as applicant 1 and applicant 2, rather than the usual applicant and respondents.
- A minimum 20-week period for a conditional order – the new law did provide a minimum of 20 weeks before the applicant is able to apply for a conditional order. Remember that this period begins at the start of the proceedings, or when the court first issues the application.
How can you apply for a divorce?
As we’ve already mentioned above, there are two ways in which partners can appeal for a divorce – either a sole application or a joint application.
Sole application – when applying solely, you will need to complete the divorce application by filling the D8 form, which you can do manually, or digitally. It will cost you around 593 pounds to do this. But if you are on a low income, you might be eligible for a fee exemption, which you can get if you fill EX160 form when applying. And in case there was domestic abuse, one can apply for legal aid. Now, together with the application, you need to file your marriage certificate as well. Remember to make three copies of the application form, where you will file two, and retain one for reference. So, in summary, to file for divorce, you will send the following to the court:
- Two copies of the application form
- A fee of 593 pounds
- The marriage certificate
- And if applicable, the fee exemption form.
Once the court receives all these documents, it will then serve the respondents with the same, unless the applicant requests to serve the respondents themselves. The court will do this either by post or through email, and after the respondent receives the notification, he or she will be required to complete an acknowledgment of service.
Circumstances where you may need to serve the respondents
Normally, it is the court that will have to serve the respondents, but there are situations where the applicant will be the one to do so. In such situations, you will need to ensure the respondents do receive the application, any notifications regarding the proceedings, as well as the acknowledgment of service form. So, under which circumstances will you be required to serve the respondents?
- When the respondent is not in England and Wales
- When the court has attempted to serve the respondent a couple of times without success.
- Or when you choose to serve the respondent yourself. Of course, you will need to check the relevant box on the application form.
Keep in mind though that if you are the one to serve the respondent, you must do it within 28 days from the date the application was issued. If, for a good reason, you can’t serve the respondents within this time, you need to apply for an extension. But to be granted this extension, you will need to explain to the court the exact reasons why you haven’t been able to serve the respondents, and that you are doing everything in your power to serve him or her.
Joint application processes are exactly the same as the sole application, with only a few differences, including;
- The joint applicants will be the ones to decide how the 593-pound application will be paid, and when it comes to the exemption, they will be able to fill the exemption form only when both of them have little or no money to pay, and both have low incomes.
- When a joint application is made, the only time it can be switched back to the sole application is at the conditional or final order stage.
What is a conditional order and how can you apply for one?
In simple terms, a conditional order is basically a document that further confirms that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that the court doesn’t see any reason why the marriage cannot end, or better yet, why the divorce can’t go through. Now, to apply for a conditional order, you will need to fill D84 form, and this will be at least 20 weeks and 1 day from the day you applied for the divorce. You can apply jointly or solely. But if you choose to do a sole application, and let’s say, you had applied for the divorce jointly, it is important that you send a copy of the D84 for to your spouse as well, at the same time you will be submitting it to the court.
So, what happens after you apply?
After you apply for the conditional order, the judge will examine the information you have provided so far to the court and will determine whether or not you are entitled to a divorce. If the divorce is uncontested, the judge will only need to look at the papers, and there won’t be any need to attend the hearings. If the judge is satisfied with everything, he will issue a certificate of entitlement to conditional order, which will state the date and time your conditional order will be made in court. This is the first stage toward finalising the divorce, but it doesn’t end the marriage.
Applying for the final order
Once the conditional order has been issued, six weeks and one day later, you will be able to apply for your final order. The final order is the legal document that officially and legally ends your marriage. To apply, you will need to complete the D36 form, which will cost you between 50 and 150 pounds. If you are eligible for fee exemption, you will need to complete the EX160 form. If the applicant fails to apply for the final order, let’s say, 3 months after the end of the required 6 weeks, the respondent can make the application instead. But if too much time passes, the court might ask for some information regarding your situation before proceeding. It’s advisable that you apply for the final order jointly, especially if you had initially applied for the divorce and conditional order jointly. But if you decide to apply solely, it is required that you give your spouse at least 14 days’ notice. And you have to prove to the court that indeed, you served the respondent. Now, once the final order is granted in court, your marriage will officially be over, and you will be free to marry again if you so wish.
How long will the divorce take?
As per the law, it will take a little over 6 months, from the initial application to the issuance of the final order. However, this timeframe may vary depending on the amount of time it takes the court to complete each stage, and the amount of time it takes for each spouse to respond to the application. The time limit can also be reduced in special circumstances, especially when one spouse is terminally ill and would like to get a divorce before passing away. Also, financial settlements in a divorce are always an issue of contention in any divorce, and so, before applying for the final order, make sure that everything is settled. If cases where one spouse is uncooperative on this issue, the divorce might drag for much longer.
As you can see, even though divorce in itself is not always easy, the law has attempted to make it easier for all the parties involved. For a smoother process, seek legal advice from a reputable family law attorney, who will guide you through the entire process.