Divorce Laws in the UK

Divorce is an unfortunate end result in today’s world. While marriages end for many reasons, the UK courts require that a divorce petition be based upon the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage supported by one of five facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years separation (with consent)
  • Five years separation (without consent)

The person who begins the divorce proceedings is called the Petitioner; the person who received the divorce petition is called the Respondent. The Petition for Divorce is issued at Court, together with:

  • The original marriage certificate
  • A certificate regarding reconciliation
  • A Statements of Arrangements for the Children of the Family
  • The lawyer’s Notice of Acting
  • A court fee in the amount of £340.00

Once the Divorce Petition is issued, copies of all the above documents are sent to the Respondent, who must file an Acknowledgement of Service form with the Court within seven days of receiving the papers. If the Petition is not defended, the Petitioner may file a sworn Affidavit confirming the truth of the Petition and asking the Court to make the first pronouncement.

The Court then will set a date for the first pronouncement, called the Decree Nisi. Neither party needs to attend court at this time. If no objection is raised at that time, and if the Court is satisfied that the Petitioner is entitled to a Decree, the Decree Nisi certificate is issued. This is not the final Decree and the parties are still married at this stage of the divorce proceedings.

The Petitioner can apply for the Decree to be made Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi. At this point, there is an additional court fee of £45.00 to be paid. Once the fee is paid and the Decree issued, the parties become formally divorced.

When the Respondent replies and/or the parties have disputed issues, such as child custody or division of property, they may ultimately need to resolve residual matters through the Court if mediation and/or negotiation through their lawyers fail. Under these circumstances, legal representation for the divorce is recommended to help guide the parties through the process.

For those parties seeking relief through the Court for financial issues, application may be made on Form A after the Divorce Petition is filed, together with a court fee of £240.00. The Court will seal the application and set a timetable for conducting the case, including:

  • A date for both parties to simultaneously exchange financial statements (Form E) along with supporting evidence; and
  • A date for both parties to file and serve:
    • A concise statement of the issues
    • A chronology
    • A questionnaire with reference to the issues to be resolved between the parties
    • A notice stating whether the First Appointment (FA) can be used as a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR)
    • A costs estimate on Form H
    • A hearing date for the FA

The parties can begin negotiation of the divorce issues after Form E’s have been exchanged. They can come to an agreement and settle the issues without going to court. However, if they cannot reach an agreement, the FA will go forward with an aim to define the issues in dispute. Parties are encouraged to settle as many matters as possible prior to going to the FA or the final court hearing. The judge will give directions and provide a continued timetable for moving forward, which will include dates:

  • For both parties to file answers to questionnaires and any further documents
  • To submit joint/individual valuations of property or other assets
  • For instructing experts
  • For the FDR hearing

Again, if no agreement has been reached by the date of the FDR hearing, both parties and their representatives will attend before the judge. The objective of the FDR is for everyone to give their best effort to reach a settlement of the divorce issues. Agreements can then be approved by the judge, which will then become legally binding under a Court order. If settlement is not fully successful, the judge will set the matter for further hearing, which may be another attempt at an FDR, or trial in the last resort. The judge may give further directions, but will have no further involvement in the case until trial or Final Hearing. Final trial documents and evidence will need to be prepared according to the judge’s directives and the rules pertaining to such matters.

Even when the parties come to a mutual agreement, it is advisable to have all legal documents that bind the parties prepared by an experienced, professional attorney. At Prince Evans, Elizabeth Kornat serves as our resident legal expert in all matters pertaining to marriage, civil partnerships and cohabitation agreements.