Divorce – getting the legal process right for you

Divorce - unhappy bride and groom on wedding cake

Divorce  - unhappy bride and groom on wedding cake

Divorce is often seen as an expensive legal nightmare but this does not have to be the case.  Here we outline the legal processes of a divorce and how you can minimise costs.

Divorce petition

You can file a divorce petition after a year of marriage (two years in Northern Ireland). One of the grounds for divorce must apply (adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, or separation for two or five years depending on whether you both agree to the divorce).

If you both want to divorce, the court orders terminating the marriage (decree nisi and decree absolute) are issued without a hearing. Many people file the divorce petition themselves, but you can avoid technical hitches by having a solicitor check the petition before you file it (many will do this for a small fixed fee).

If you or your partner does not agree to the divorce there will be a court hearing. There is really no substitute for using a solicitor in this case. Their technical knowledge and strategic experience maximise the chances of a swift and positive outcome.

Arrangements for children

Courts will not grant a divorce until the arrangements for children are sorted out. This can be the most emotive and complex part of the process.

It is best if you can negotiate an agreement on this with your former partner. Solicitors can provide a valuable input. Based on their experience, they will help you draw up a clear and watertight agreement that takes into account potential changes to your circumstances in the future. The agreement must be approved by a court so a solicitor will make sure it is presented in a way that will be satisfactory.

Court action can be triggered if you or your former partner applies for a child residence or contact order. Courts and solicitors encourage people to use this as a last resort but there may be no alternative if your partner refuses to compromise. Solicitors will advise you on the likely outcome of court action and help you explore alternative solutions like mediation.

Financial settlement

As with issues involving children, financial separation is normally dealt with by negotiation between the divorcing couple rather than court action. Child maintenance can be arranged between you and your former partner, or referred to the Child Support Agency.

Solicitors will give you realistic expectations about the financial settlement; help you record the agreement clearly and have it turned into a binding court order; and if necessary assist you to take steps to protect joint property during negotiations.  If you reach deadlock and it becomes necessary to take court action, the outcome will depend on factors including the length of marriage, the contributions of each of you, your ages and resources.

Legal costs in divorce have the potential to be high. However, the vast majority of family solicitors are sympathetic to the financial constraints of people going through a divorce. They will be transparent with you about their fees and work with you to keep them at a minimum.  Involving a solicitor from the outset is an investment that will free up your time and help you get on with your life sooner.

If you’d like to learn more about the process of divorce and different divorce costs, visit Contact Law.

This article was written by Dominic Higgins on behalf of Contact Law. Before working as a contributing writer for Contact law, Dominic was a legal adviser in the United Kingdom and South Africa; he received a degree in Law from University College London in 2005 and is now currently teaching Law himself.