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How long does a divorce or dissolution take?

A divorce or dissolution can take as little as 26 weeks (six months) from the date the divorce application is issued at court. An application for the Conditional Order, previously known as the Decree Nisi, can be made to the court no sooner than 20 weeks after the date of issue of the divorce application, assuming no dispute has been registered. This is significantly longer than the timescale under previous legislation, which was six weeks and one day from the date of issue of the divorce application. The Applicant can apply for the Final Order, previously known as the Decree Absolute, six weeks after the Conditional Order has been pronounced.

The total timescale for a divorce or dissolution depends on prompt application for each stage of the process and is very much governed by the complexities of the financial settlement (division of family assets). It is generally the financial settlement that takes the most time. An application for divorce can only be presented to the court once the parties have been married or in a civil partnership for one year.

How much will a divorce or dissolution cost?

The court fee for the divorce application is £593. This can be paid by one or both parties, depending on the type of divorce application. The court fee covers the cost of processing the divorce or dissolution, including both the Conditional and Final Orders. Those on low incomes or claiming certain types of benefit may be able to get help paying the court fee.

The total cost of a divorce or civil dissolution will vary, especially when considering solicitors' fees. It will depend on whether you are the Applicant or the Respondent, if the divorce or dissolution is to be disputed on the grounds of jurisdiction or status of the relationship, and whether there are going to be any difficulties in serving the divorce application on the Respondent.

Do I have grounds to divorce my spouse or dissolve my civil partnership?

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force in April 2022. Under the law in England and Wales there is only one ground for divorce or dissolution and that is that the marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. There is no longer the need to prove one of five facts to satisfy the court of irretrievable breakdown. The application form for a divorce or dissolution is simply called the Application, previously known as the Petition. This can be submitted by one of the parties (the Applicant) or by both parties jointly (the Applicants). The Application will include the statement of irretrievable breakdown upon which the divorce or dissolution is requested.

How should the family assets be divided on divorce or dissolution?

The law sets out the criteria which must be taken into account when formulating a financial settlement. The court is required to balance the criteria when considering the claims of each partner. There is no formula when it comes to deciding how the family assets should be divided. Each case is decided on its own set of facts.

There are essentially six ways to deal with division of family assets on divorce and dissolution:

  • Reach an agreement directly with your spouse/partner 
  • Negotiate a settlement with the assistance of a mediator 
  • Negotiate a settlement with the assistance of your solicitor 
  • Negotiate a settlement using the collaborative process 
  • Negotiate a settlement using the arbitration process 
  • Issue court proceedings to ask a judge to decide the matter

Whichever method you choose, the first step to a fair settlement is to ensure that both you and your partner provide a clear and accurate picture of your assets. This procedure is called financial disclosure. 

Most cases are settled by negotiating an agreement. However, sometimes it may be necessary to issue court proceedings. Even where court proceedings are issued, most people will reach a financial settlement during the proceedings and very few will actually be resolved by a final hearing in front of a judge.

My partner and I have split up – do I have any rights in our property?

If you and your partner jointly own a property, it is important to know whether you own it as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. This will affect how your share in the property is dealt with on death and in the event of your relationship breaking down.

If you own the property as Joint Tenants, your share will automatically pass to your partner on your death irrespective of intestacy rules or the terms of your Will. If the relationship breaks down, it is assumed that you own the property in equal shares although this can be challenged in certain circumstances.

If you own the property as Tenants in Common, your share will not automatically pass to your partner. If you have a Will it will pass to whoever you have named as your beneficiary otherwise it will pass in accordance with intestacy rules. In the event of your relationship breaking down, determining your respective shares in the absence of clear evidence can be very difficult and complex.

My former partner and I can’t agree on how much contact he should have with the children. What can we do?

If you and your former partner cannot agree on such matters, the best way to initially deal with the matter is to attend mediation with a view to reaching an agreement. Mediation may not be suitable for all couples (especially where there has been domestic abuse). We advise that you contact your local mediator for further information. If mediation is unsuccessful or unsuitable, the parent seeking contact with the children can apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order.

My partner and I want to live together. Do we need a Living Together Agreement?

You are not legally required to have a Living Together Agreement when cohabiting with your partner but we advise that, in some circumstances, it is best to have one so that you may each protect any assets brought into the relationship in the event of it ending. The agreement can set out the arrangements which will apply while you are living together and those that will apply in the event of your relationship ending. The kind of issues that you may wish to cover in your Living Together Agreement are: clarification of the ownership of the family home, a provision about how the mortgage payments, bills and home improvements are to be shared between you, how you will divide the family assets in the event of the relationship ending etc. Although the Living Together Agreement can, and should, include a provision regarding the ownership of the family home, it is best to also have a Trust Deed clarifying ownership.

My partner and I are getting married. Should we have a pre-nuptial agreement?

Pre-nuptial agreements are agreements made before marriage dealing with what will happen in the event of a divorce. Pre-nuptial agreements are still not binding in English law, however, following the judgement in the case of Radmacher v Granatino (October 2010), the court should uphold such agreements if the parties entered into it freely, with a full appreciation of its implications, unless in the circumstances prevailing, it would be unfair to hold the parties to the agreement. If you do wish to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, we advise that both you and your partner obtain independent legal advice and that you enter into the agreement at least 28 days prior to the marriage.

Can I claim benefits even if my former partner/spouse pays me child maintenance?

In the past, if the parent with care of the children was receiving Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker's Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, and was also in receipt of child maintenance, their benefits were reduced accordingly.

However, on the 12 April 2010 the law on child maintenance changed. As of April 2010, parents with care of the children who are on benefits can keep all of the child maintenance they receive without their benefit being affected. In addition, receiving child maintenance will not affect Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit or Tax Credits either, regardless of the amount of child maintenance received.

Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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