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How to get a divorce

There are three parts to getting a divorce:

  • the dissolution of the marriage

  • children’s arrangements

  • financial arrangements

The dissolution of the marriage

This involves obtaining the conditional order (stating that the court does not see any reason why the divorce cannot proceed) and the final order (the official document ending a marriage).

There is a 20-week period of reflection between starting the divorce proceedings and obtaining a condition order. This is to allow you and your spouse to agree on practical arrangements surrounding the separation. Once a conditional order has been obtained, there is a 6-week gap before the final order is made.

For more information, read The divorce process.

Children's arrangements

These involve deciding how you will care for any children, where they will live and how they will be supported. The courts may not grant you a divorce unless they are satisfied that satisfactory arrangements for the children are in place.

For more information, read Child maintenance

Financial arrangements

These include deciding how you will divide your assets and liabilities and where you will live. Not all couples come to a formal arrangement regarding finances. However, a divorce does not end the right of a former spouse to make financial claims on the other. Therefore, it is advisable to have your financial arrangements recorded in a consent order, which can detail your agreement and provide that neither of you can make a financial claim on the other in the future. 

For more information, read Divorce and financial arrangements.

Separation agreements

Before applying for a divorce, some couples create a Separation agreement, to deal with the financial aspects of ending a marriage. This can be used to split property and other assets and record other financial arrangements. Agreeing on your financial arrangements early on can make getting a consent order easier. You can either draw up a separation agreement yourselves, or you can Ask a lawyer for assistance.

For more information, read Separating from your spouse or civil partner.

DIY and online divorce

If both partners agree on matters regarding finances and children, getting a divorce is rather straightforward. Therefore, it is possible to get a divorce cheaply using a do-it-yourself method or online. You will need to make yourself aware of the various elements of the process and be willing to undertake all the admin. You can divorce from £250+VAT with Rocket Lawyer (in association with NewBold Solicitors). Web-based services usually include a degree of guidance from a divorce lawyer but are much cheaper than actually going to visit a solicitor.

What if you can’t agree on financial or child arrangements?

There are several options if you and your spouse can’t agree. These include:

  • mediation

  • arbitration

  • using a solicitor

  • going to court

Mediation

Family mediation is where an independent, trained professional helps you and your ex to work out agreements for your children or your finances. They can assist you to create a parenting plan or help you to figure out which financial documents to base your decisions on. They will also be able to recommend a lawyer who will be able to record your agreements into a legal document. Any decision reached during mediation is generally only legally binding if set out in writing.

Arbitration

Arbitration is distinct from mediation, in that it involves appointing an arbitrator to make a decision on any financial and property issues arising from the breakdown of your relationship (ie rather than reaching a mutual agreement). Any decision reached during arbitration is legally binding. 

Using a divorce solicitor

Using a solicitor can be expensive, but a solicitor will manage all stages of the divorce. It may be necessary to use a solicitor where there are tricky issues involved and unresolved disputes. Often they will be able to help you achieve a divorce without the involvement of the court (other than granting the conditions and final orders).

Going to court

Going to court can be costly and may involve using a barrister if the case goes to a final hearing before a judge. However, if you and your partner are unable to negotiate (such as in cases of domestic violence, or where your partner refuses to disclose assets) it may be necessary to apply to the court for a financial order.

In most cases, you will need to at least have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before taking any divorce dispute to court. A MIAM is a meeting, attended by a qualified mediator, that allows you and your ex to find out more about mediation options. If, after your MIAM, it is decided that mediation is not suitable for your case, the court will allow proceedings to be issued.

Other ways of ending a marriage

Informal arrangement

Some couples decide to end their marriage without taking any formal steps.

You can simply come to an informal arrangement with your spouse, choose to stop living together and essentially bring your relationship to a conclusion. Obviously, you will need to agree on the practical arrangements, including:

  • how to split any finances and possessions

  • what to do about your accommodation (eg if you have a joint mortgage, will you sell the property or will one of you buy the other’s share of the mortgage?)

  • which parent will become the primary carer of any children you may have

  • who any family pets will live with

If you are in receipt of any benefits or tax reductions as a result of your marriage, you will also need to inform your council, benefits office, HMRC and any other relevant bodies.

This does not separate you legally and you cannot remarry.

Judicial separation

If you would like to legally separate from your spouse but cannot get a divorce (eg because you have not been married for a year) or do not wish to actually get a divorce (possibly for religious reasons), you can obtain a judicial separation. Although this does not dissolve the marriage, it does allow the court to divide any matrimonial property and assets, and it means that husband and wife will not be treated as such for the purposes of any wills. However, remember that you cannot remarry unless you get an actual divorce.

See the Government's guidance for more information.


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