Published on March 2, 2014
A Guide to Undefended Divorce in England and Wales
Introduction Getting divorced can be a stressful and complex process. This guide has been produced by justdivorce.co.uk to provide a clear overview to getting divorced in England and Wales. It will help you to decide whether you are entitled to a divorce, and if so how to go about it. The guide also highlights the issues that you need to consider before embarking on the divorce process. An explanation of the key legal terms used in the guide can be found on on page 6. Undefended divorce – what it means. An undefended divorce is when both people have agreed to divorce amicably, and agree to cooperate on all aspects of the divorce. The prospect of divorce – even if there are no disputes – can be both daunting and stressful. Having professional legal advice and support you can trust can help smooth the process and make it a lot easier. This guide answers some of the questions that arise when two people agree to divorce in England and Wales. How long will it take? What papers do I need? What happens if children are involved? It explains the divorce process and highlights important issues you need to consider before you proceed, including whether you are eligible to divorce. It has been produced by Bryan Reed, LLB Solicitor, a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and the Resolution group of family lawyers. Bryan has more than 30 years experience of dealing with family law cases, and has successfully handled hundreds of divorces. You can find out more information on most of the issues outlined in this guide by visiting www.justdivorce.co.uk/undefended-divorce You can contact Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com 1
How justdivorce.co.uk can help Established in 1999, justdivorce.co.uk is an online divorce service run by Bryan Reed, a consultant with the London family law specialists, josiah-lake gardiner LLP. Justdivorce.co.uk will take you through every step of the divorce process, for a fixed fee with no hidden charges. It offers all the reassurance of a professional solicitor, but at a fraction of the cost. We explain exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it, every step of the way. We also prepare everything the court needs to process your petition, and we tell you what documents you need to supply, what payments need to be made and when you need to make them. Unlike some online divorce services, our service is provided by a fully qualified, experienced firm of solicitors (not unqualified paralegals) and is fully online. All you need is access to a computer and an email address, so our service is particularly useful for ex-pats living abroad who want to get divorced in England and Wales. Unlike paralegal companies, justdivorce.co.uk operates under the supervision of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and is subject to strict rules on client care, professional indemnity insurance and holding clients’ money etc. Five key criteria for using our online Undefended Divorce Service Tick each of the following five points to find out if you are eligible to divorce using the justdivorce.co.uk Undefended Divorce Service: You have your original marriage certificate, or you can obtain a further original certificate You have been married for at least 1 year You and your spouse agree to divorce Your spouse will cooperate fully throughout the divorce process You and/or your spouse are living or domiciled in England and Wales What documents must I send to the Court to start the divorce process? Divorce petition This document is a request to the Court for a divorce. It sets out the grounds for the divorce as well as other information, and confirms what orders are being sought from the court. As part of our Undefended Divorce Service, justdivorce.co.uk will draft this document for you and give you a full explanation of what’s involved. Original marriage certificate Your original marriage certificate must be sent to the court with the divorce petition. A photocopy will be rejected. If you were married in England or Wales you can obtain an original marriage certificate by visiting www.gro.gov.uk It does not matter if you were married abroad, provided that the ceremony was valid in the country where it took place. If the marriage certificate is in a foreign language, you must also provide an official translation of the certificate in a specified format. Justdivorce.co.uk can arrange this translation for you through our Marriage Certificate Translation Service. Statement of Arrangements for Children This document is also sent with the divorce petition. It provides information regarding children of the family who are under 18. It gives details on proposed arrangements such as housing, education and contact. Again, as part of our Undefended Divorce service, justdivorce.co.uk will draft this document for you and explain everything you need to know. 2
Will I have to pay any court fees? Yes. You need to pay a fee to the court to issue the divorce petition and to obtain the final divorce document (Decree Absolute). You may be exempt from paying court fees if you receive certain state benefits, although you would then not be able to use our service. To find out more, visit www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk and read Form EX160A – Court Fees – Do I have to pay them? Justdivorce.co.uk will tell you exactly what court fees need to be paid, how, and when as part of our Undefended Divorce Service. What are the main legal issues I need to consider before going ahead? Jurisdiction Whether the courts of England and Wales have the jurisdiction (legal power) to accept your divorce petition and to grant you a decree of divorce depends on where you and your spouse live and/or where you are domiciled. If one or both of you live in England or Wales, there should be no problem. If both you and your spouse live abroad, you may still be able to divorce here provided that one or both of you are domiciled in England and Wales (i.e. England or Wales is your permanent home or is the country with which you have the closest connection.) You can file for divorce in any divorce county court in England and Wales, perhaps choosing a court close to home or one further away – you do not physically have to go to court to obtain a divorce so long as your divorce petition is not contested by your spouse and there are no complications. Justdivorce.co.uk provides a list of all divorce county courts, and will issue your petition wherever you want. You cannot get divorced without issuing a petition at court. Getting a Decree Absolute of divorce from the court is the only way of obtaining a legally binding divorce in England and Wales. There are various forms of religious divorce such as the Jewish Get and the Islamic Talaq, but these alone are not sufficient to legally dissolve your marriage. For free information on whether you can issue a divorce petition in England and Wales, visit www.justdivorce.co.uk and follow the ‘Undefended divorce’ link in the ‘Free legal information’ section. Grounds for Divorce To get divorced in England and Wales you must have been married for at least 1 year. There are no exceptions, so you cannot get divorced before your first wedding anniversary. There are five available grounds for divorce: • 5 years separation • 2 years desertion • 2 years separation and consent • Adultery (by the Respondent only, not the Petitioner – you can’t rely on your own adultery to get a divorce) • Unreasonable behaviour More information on grounds for divorce can be found by following the ‘Undefended divorce’ link on our website. As part of our service, justdivorce.co.uk will provide all the necessary detail on the correct ground for divorce in your divorce petition. 3
Children As previously mentioned, if you have children of the family under 18 and at school, you will need to lodge a Statement of Arrangements for Children when you send in your divorce petition. Unless there is good reason to intervene, the court will, in most cases, be satisfied with the proposed arrangements for the children on the basis of your Statement of Arrangements. The court then won’t make any specific order as to where the children should live, or how much contact the non resident parent should have, leaving it instead to the parents to reach their own agreement. Even if there is an ongoing dispute regarding the children, it is still possible to be granted a final Decree Absolute of divorce. If a problem arises, such as which parent the children should live with or what school a child should go to, it might be necessary for you or your spouse to issue a separate court application as part of the divorce proceedings to resolve this dispute. Justdivorce.co.uk does not handle disputes involving children as they are too complicated to deal with online. However, as a specialist in family law, you can trust that Bryan Reed will correctly advise you on all matters relating to children via josiah-lake gardiner LLP solicitors. Financial issues As part of the divorce proceedings, both you and your spouse can apply to the court for financial orders. The court has a wide discretion when deciding on financial applications and each case is decided, largely, on its own facts. It’s therefore very important for both people to obtain independent legal advice regarding potential claims. Although it is possible for the final Decree Absolute of divorce to be granted before financial issues have been resolved, it is usual for the Petitioner (the person applying for divorce) to wait until the finances have been sorted out before applying for the final decree. However, these potential claims for financial orders can usually be pursued at any time in the future until they are specifically dealt with by the court, which can leave doubt and uncertainty. The only sure way to achieve finality is to apply for a clean break order within the divorce proceedings, dismissing all potential claims once and for all. Justdivorce.co.uk can help you decide (at no cost) if this order is right for you. In addition, we offer a Financial Clean Break Order Service at a competitive fixed price. Follow the link on our website for more details. For expert advice on financial matters, Bryan Reed at josiah-lake gardiner LLP solicitors offers a sensibly-priced fixed fee interview. How long will it take to complete my divorce? The time it takes to complete a divorce depends on the individual case. Factors include waiting times in the court in which the petition is issued, how busy that particular court is and how quickly both people deal with each of the steps along the way. With vast experience in handling divorce cases, justdivorce.co.uk makes use of the latest technology to ensure that matters are dealt with quickly and efficiently – in most cases taking 16 to 20 weeks (sometimes less) to complete a divorce, from submitting the papers to receiving the final Decree Absolute. For more detail on the divorce process and timescales, follow the ‘Undefended divorce’ link on the justdivorce.co.uk home page. 4
At a glance – the Undefended Divorce process The following guide describes each step that is taken to get an undefended divorce. It assumes that both spouses cooperate, and that there is no dispute or complications. 1 The Petitioner (the spouse who starts the divorce proceedings) posts a divorce petition to the court with an original marriage certificate, a translation of foreign language marriage certificate (if required) and a Statement of Arrangements for Children (if required). A cheque for the court fee is also enclosed. 2 The divorce petition is issued and a copy (plus a copy of any Statement of Arrangements for Children) is posted by the court to the Respondent (the other spouse) with a Notice of Issue of Proceedings. 3 The Respondent lodges an Acknowledgement of Service of the divorce petition, confirming intention not to defend the proceedings. A copy of this Acknowledgement is sent to the Petitioner by the court. 4 The Petitioner swears an affidavit (a formal written statement sworn on oath before a solicitor or a County Court Officer) confirming that the contents of the Petition are true, and signs an application for Decree Nisi. These are posted to the court and form the Petitioner’s application for a hearing date for declaration of Decree Nisi of divorce (the initial divorce decree). The paperwork is considered by a District Judge in his or her private chambers. 5 Assuming the District Judge is satisfied with the papers he or she issues a Certificate confirming that the Petitioner is entitled to a divorce. If there are any children involved, the Certificate confirms that no court order need be made in relation to the children. The Certificate also sets out any agreement regarding legal costs, and fixes a hearing date for declaration of Decree Nisi of divorce. Notice of the hearing date is sent to both spouses. 6 The Decree Nisi of divorce is granted in open court on the hearing date allocated, plus any agreed order for legal costs. It is not necessary for anyone to attend. Sealed original copies of the Decree Nisi and any costs order are then posted from the court to both spouses, usually within a couple of weeks of the hearing. The grant of the Decree Nisi is a halfway house to divorce, intended to give both parties time for final reflection. 7 After six weeks from the date of the Decree Nisi the Petitioner can apply for the Decree Nisi to be made absolute, by sending to the court the necessary application form and a cheque for the fee. 8 Once the Decree Absolute is granted the marriage is dissolved. Original sealed copies of the Decree Absolute are posted from the court to both parties, usually within a week, to conclude the divorce petition. There may still, however, be issues regarding the children or finances that need to be resolved. What will justdivorce.co.uk do for me? Justdivorce.co.uk will take you through the entire undefended divorce process – from issue of proceedings to final decree. We will prepare all the required court forms and accompanying letters that you need to send to the court. You will be able to access and approve them online from anywhere in the world. We will tell you exactly what you need to do – as well as when, why and how – at each step of the way. We will tell you if there is a court fee payable, how much it is, and how to pay it. We will arrange for papers to be posted direct to us from the court to avoid delay. We will explain the relevant law, so you understand what is happening and why. We will also advise you if any difficulties arise, and explain exactly what needs to be done to solve the problem. We do all this for a fixed and transparent fee, full details of which you can see on the home page of our website under ‘What our services cost’. We also provide related services on the same fixed price basis, such as our Financial Clean Break Order and Marriage Certificate Translation Service. 5
What if my divorce is too complicated to be dealt with by justdivorce.co.uk or my spouse will not cooperate? Our online services are designed to deal with undefended divorces where the issues are agreed and the other spouse will cooperate fully. If you complete the questionnaire relating to our Undefended Divorce Service, we will tell you if your situation is suitable to be handled online and if not, why not. We may, for example, spot a legal problem with your proposed petition. In this situation, you can rest assured that you will receive expert advice from Bryan Reed, via josiah-lake gardiner LLP solicitors, specialists in family law. You can contact Bryan on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 020 7713 7011 to discuss your case on a no obligation basis. What should I do next? If you would like to proceed with our Undefended Divorce Service, or any of our other services, simply log in to your private account using your email address and password. Select the service that you want from the main menu and begin completing our simple questionnaire, in which we provide further advice and guidance to help you along the way. Your answers should give us all the information we need to advise you effectively throughout, and to prepare all the necessary forms and letters on your behalf. You don’t have to make any payment to us until you are sure that you want to go ahead. If you decide to proceed we will confirm the full cost of our Service before you make any payment, and you will then be transferred to our secure payment page where you can pay by credit or debit card. See “What our services cost” on our home page for details of our competitive fixed prices, and any other expenses such as court fees. You can complete the questionnaire at your convenience; at any time and from anywhere you want – you won’t ever need to visit our office. Once you have finished doing so and have submitted the questionnaire to us online we will review your replies and our Service will begin. Explanation of key legal terms used in this guide A glossary of additional terms can be found at www.justdivorce.co.uk in the ‘Further information’ section Affidavit – a formal written statement sworn on oath to be true by the person making it. An affidavit is usually sworn before a solicitor (but not your own solicitor) or a County Court Officer. Clean Break – a financial settlement which includes an agreement that the spouses will make no further financial claims against each other in the future. Decree Absolute of Divorce – the final divorce decree which dissolves a marriage. Decree Nisi of Divorce – the initial divorce decree, which confirms that the ground for the divorce has been established, but does not dissolve the marriage. Divorce Petition – the document in which a spouse asks the Court for a divorce, and which starts the divorce process. Domicile – the country where a person has his/her permanent home, or closest connection. This can be either a domicile of origin, or a domicile of choice. Financial Remedy – a general term for the possible financial orders which the Court can grant as part of the divorce process. Briefly, the Court can make an order for periodical payments (maintenance), lump sum, property adjustment or pension sharing. Petitioner – the spouse who applies for a divorce by issuing a divorce petition. Respondent – the spouse upon whom the divorce petition is served after it has been issued by the other spouse. Statement of Arrangements for Children – if a divorce case involves children under 18, then in most situations the Petitioner will need to serve with the divorce petition a form setting out the arrangements for the children as they will be after the divorce. The Court needs to be satisfied with these proposed arrangements, failing which complications might arise in relation to the divorce petition. It is possible for the spouses to agree the contents of this form before the petition is issued. 6
● Justdivorce.co.uk 5th Floor River House 143-145 Farringdon Road London EC1R 3AB tel: +44 (0)20 7713 7011 fax: +44 (0)20 7713 7018 email: email@example.com Justdivorce.co.uk is a trading name of josiah-lake gardiner LLP, which is a limited liability partnership number 0C341662 registered in England at the above address
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