Marriage legally binds together the financial and other affairs of two people, such that a legal process is necessary to dissolve the bone. This process is divorce. Most of the time divorce doesn’t involve the court system, but the courts can become involved if the divorcing couple can’t agree on financial arrangements or child custody, and can’t resolve their differences via other methods.


Reasons for Divorce


In the UK, a couple must have a justifiable reason for believing that a marriage cannot continue. There are five main categories of justifiable reason:

  • Adultery: as long as the married couple did not live together after the adultery, and the adultery occurred within six months of initiating the divorce

  • Desertion: one spouse permanently leaves the home for a continuous period of at least two years. For desertion to apply there is either no justifiable reason for the separation, or both parties don’t agree to the separation

  • Unreasonable behaviour: for instance, domestic abuse or violence, or alcoholism or drug addiction. These are more extreme examples but the unreasonable behaviour doesn’t need to be so extreme to qualify. Unreasonable behaviour can also include relatively minor issues such as spending too much time working, financial irresponsibility, or having no common interests.

  • Separation: where the parties have lived apart for two years or more, and both parties agree to the divorce. OR, where the parties have lived apart for at least five years, regardless of whether both parties agree


The Divorce Process


All divorces follow the same basic process, but sometimes there are additional steps involved, depending on the specific situation. For instance, where there are contentious issues such as a child custody or financial dispute, the couple may need to take measures to resolve those problems before the divorce can be finalised. A divorce solicitor is also often required to help with the process but for more straight forward matters this process can be completed without a solicitor. There are three stages to the divorce process.


The petition for divorce


This is the first step in the process, and is always filed at a courthouse regardless of whether the court system is involved in the divorce.


Provided there is a justifiable reason for the divorce, it’s not necessary for both parties to agree on the divorce. However, it’s helpful if there is some kind of communication between the two parties before the petition is filed. This allows the other party to raise any objections they have, and means there is a chance to resolve potential problems before they arise in the divorce process.


The decree nisi


This is a legal document confirming there is no legal reason that the divorce can’t be granted. To obtain a decree nisi one partner files an application. The form is processed, and then the other party is notified of the application. They have the option to object to the decree nisi. If they don’t object, the decree is granted.


If they do object, the petitioner requests a case management hearing, at which a judge listens to both parties and then decides whether to grant the decree nisi. Sometimes the judge declines to grant the decree, usually because they decide they want more information about the situation first.


The decree absolute is granted a minimum of 6 weeks after the decree nisi is granted. The waiting period allows both parties the chance to finalise financial arrangements or custody arrangements before the divorce is granted. It also allows both parties the chance to negotiate further if they want to alter any of the arrangements.


At the end of the 6-week waiting period the divorce petitioner files a request to obtain a decree absolute. Once the court has received the request they review all the documentation pertaining to the divorce. If everything is determined to be correct and accurate the decree absolute is granted, and the marriage is legally ended.


Alternatives to Divorce


Marriages that end don’t necessarily end in divorce. In some situations a couple may decide to stay married, and in this case they can separate, either formally or informally.


Informal separation


A married couple can separate physically if they no longer live together, but some of their affairs are still legally bound together as long as they remain married. If a couple wants to separate without divorcing they can enter into an informal separation agreement or have a Deed of Separation created. A Deed of Separation can include child custody arrangements, financial arrangements, and any other items the couple wants to include.


Judicial separation


Also called legal separation, this is a formalised separation, often entered into by people who decide to separate but are not certain they will divorce. This is also used by people who want to avoid divorce for religious reasons.

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