How to keep things as straightforward as possible.
Breaking up is never an easy thing to do. But making the decision to end your marriage is only the first step. What comes next is often a hard, stressful and expensive process involving divorce lawyers, the courts and a lot of frustration, because you want the Decree Absolute yesterday.
There are, however, good and bad divorces. Good divorces are resolved amicably, keeping your family relationships intact and giving everyone a fair deal financially. In bad divorces, anger escalates and things drag on as couples deliberately make things difficult for each other.
In England and Wales, it typically takes around four to six months for a straightforward divorce to go through. Longer if you have complex finances to sort out. While you can’t fast track a divorce below 12 weeks, you can make things much speedier and fairer by following these five tips.
1. Agree that neither of you is going to contest the divorce
After the Petitioner has filed for divorce, their ex – the Respondent to the divorce petition – has 28 days to contest the divorce, which means they want to defend against it. Contesting a divorce slows things down considerably as the Court will require both parties to provide evidence to support their case. A judge decides whether the spouse who petitioned for divorce is entitled to it.
An uncontested divorce is much quicker and usually does not require you to attend any court hearings.
There are many reasons why someone may wish to contest a divorce. For instance, they may not want the marriage to end. Or they may not agree with the reason stated in the divorce petition. At the moment in England in Wales, you can only get a divorce for one of five acceptable reasons – unreasonable behaviour, adultery, two years’ separation (and both parties agree to divorce), five years’ separation (the parties do not need to agree) and desertion for two years. This means that someone must admit to fault unless you’ve been separated for more than two years.
A ‘no fault’ divorce law is expected to be introduced in April 2022. This will allow couples to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown as the reason for ending their marriage, with no requirement for evidence. Until then, it’s important that you both agree why you want the marriage to end in order to get your divorce through smoothly, even if it is emotionally difficult for someone to ‘take the blame.’
2. Opt for a digital divorce
Launched in May 2018, the digital divorce service allows all of the divorce paperwork to be completed and filed online, instead of sending forms by paper and post. The system automatically checks for errors before the forms are submitted, so it’s less likely that a form will be rejected because of a small mistake. This means that forms are turned around a lot quicker. Couples can often complete a straightforward divorce within 12 weeks through the online system, as opposed to the six months taken by the paper process.
You’ll still need some information to start the divorce. When and where you got married, your spouse’s address, and a copy of the marriage certificate plus an English translation if you were married abroad. If you haven’t got your marriage certificate, then you must apply to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for a certified copy. You can speed things up by organising this information upfront.
3. Talk about your finances at an early stage
Whether it’s contested or not, a divorce simply ends your marriage. Matters relating to any children, money or property you share with your ex-partner have to be decided separately. Making these arrangements can be far more difficult and time-consuming than getting the Decree Absolute which brings your marriage contract to an end.
There can be many reasons why the financial side of divorce goes slowly. Often, it’s because the couple’s financial situation is genuinely complex. For example, the couple may have a business that needs to be valued by an outside expert. Or they may need in-depth tax advice before they can start dividing their assets. The more complicated a couple’s finances are, the longer their divorce is likely to take.
Once a financial settlement has been agreed, you can apply to the Court for a financial order. This document makes your agreement legally binding and officially cuts financial ties with your ex-spouse. If you can’t come to an agreement with your partner, taking your case to Court may be the only option. This can potentially add months of delays.
Talking about money or the children is hard. A lot of divorces get stuck in limbo because one partner is reluctant to communicate. In this situation, using a trained, neutral mediator to help you sort through the issues can make all the difference. Mediation sessions usually last around 60 to 90 minutes. Most parties can resolve all the issues in around three to five sessions.
It’s usually much faster to get divorced using mediation since you don’t have to wait for a court date. Mediation is also less expensive than court action because of the lower legal fees involved. Many divorce lawyers are also trained mediators or will be able to recommend one.
5. Be realistic
There are two important documents on the path to divorce. The Decree Nisi is a certificate from the Court that says you can divorce. The Decree Absolute is the final decree that dissolves a marriage. You can apply for a Decree Absolute 43 days after the date of Decree Nisi, even if financial or children matters still need resolving.
However, the strong and clear legal advice is that it is almost always better to delay the Decree Absolute until the financial settlement is in place. If you don’t have full financial disclosure, settling your divorce quickly would be premature and risky. Also, some things get a lot harder when you are no longer a ‘spouse.’ For example, you could be losing spousal benefits under a pension scheme or even the right to live in the marital home.
Sometimes, when your divorce is moving slowly, the only thing you can do is be patient – and trust your solicitor. A specialist solicitor will guide you through the process as swiftly as possible, making sure you get the best result. They can also speak to your partner and their legal team so you don’t have to.