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The divorce process – all you need to know

April 14, 2020

Reaching the conclusion that a marriage has broken down and making a decision to obtain a divorce can be difficult.

We have prepared this simple guide to help you understand what the divorce process is, the different steps you will need to take and how our expert divorce solicitors can help you during this time.

What is the divorce process?

The process of obtaining a divorce has several stages and our specialist solicitors can guide you through them all.

Simply put, divorce is the legal process by which the family court brings a marriage to an end. It does not resolve the arrangements for any children of the marriage or deal with financial and property issues stemming from the marriage but all of these issues, which can be more emotionally difficult and complex, can be dealt with alongside the divorce. 

Every divorce is different and our divorce solicitors will treat you as an individual and ensure you receive tailored advice.

How does the divorce process work?

There are 3 main stages of a divorce. The steps, in basic terms, are:

Divorce application

It is possible for either one of a divorcing couple to make an application for a divorce or for an application to be made jointly. The person who makes the application will be called the Applicant.

There is only one ground for divorce, this is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. It is no longer necessary to assign blame to the other person and it is sufficient to confirm that the marriage has naturally come to an end.

Applying for a Conditional Order

Once the divorce application has been issued by the courts there is a ‘period of reflection’ built into the process by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. This means that from the point of issuing the divorce application a period of 20 weeks must pass before the court can make a Conditional Order. 

The intention of the period of reflection is to allow divorcing couples to consider their position and see whether they can work on their differences and reconcile.

For couples who are sure they wish to proceed with a divorce this time can also be used to negotiate a financial settlement and resolve the arrangements for any children. 

At the end of the period of reflection if one of the divorcing couple still wishes to divorce the process will continue. A Conditional Order means that a Judge has decided in principle that a divorce should proceed.

Final Order

The final step will be for the Applicant to apply for a Final Order. The Court can only make a final order once 6 weeks have passed from the point the Conditional Order is made. Once the Final Order has been granted you are legally divorced and your marriage has come to an end.  

What happens if my spouse doesn’t acknowledge the divorce application?

If your spouse fails to respond to the acknowledgment of service, there are different steps our experienced divorce solicitors can take to ensure it does not stop the divorce from progressing.

The first step may be to contact your spouse and remind them of the need to respond; it is possible they have a reasonable explanation as to why they haven’t yet responded or are in the process of instructing a solicitor.

If they are actively refusing to complete the Acknowledgment of Service, or are ignoring the attempts to contact them, our divorce solicitors will advise you on the best option to progress the divorce and avoid delay. You cannot serve your spouse with your own divorce application.

These steps may include:

  • Instructing a process server to effect personal service
  • Applying for a court bailiff to effect personal service
  • Applying to the court for deemed service
  • Applying to the court to substitute service
  • Applying to the court to dispense with service

Process Server – Personal Service

At AFG Law we frequently instruct process servers and have a good working relationship with a number of companies. 

When a process server is instructed, they will aim to personally hand the divorce application and papers to your spouse. They will then complete a statement of service that tells the Court exactly when and where the spouse physically received the petition. 

This is sufficient for the Court to determine that your spouse has been correctly served, is aware of the proceedings and you will then be able to progress to applying for the Conditional Order without your spouse completing the Acknowledgment of Service. 

You can assist the process server by providing addresses where your spouse is living or spends time, a recent photograph and physical description, details of their car etc.

Court bailiff – Personal Service

If you are not represented by a solicitor or are in receipt of a ‘legal help’ as you’re on a low income and meet the criteria, you are able to apply for a court bailiff to personally serve your spouse. 

Once the court bailiff has been successful in serving your spouse, they will file a certificate of service to confirm your spouse has personally received the application and is therefore aware of the proceedings.

Applying to the court for deemed service

Our solicitors have used text messages, WhatsApp messages, emails and letters as evidence that a Respondent has received a divorce application and therefore the Court should deem that there has been good service.

If you receive anything from your spouse when they receive the divorce application make sure that you keep it and discuss it with one of our solicitors; if you have evidence that your spouse did receive the issued divorce application, you can make an application for “deemed service”.

Applying to the court for alternative service

If the above options are not successful you could also consider ‘Substituted/Alternative Service’ where you request permission from the Court to notify your spouse of the divorce proceedings using a different method, e.g.  serving it by email, via an employer or relative.

Application to dispense with service 

In rare circumstances, and when you have tried everything else, you can apply to the Family Court for a Judge to grant permission to dispense with serving the Respondent with the divorce application. This is used in situations where the Respondent cannot be found but the Judge will expect you to have made ‘all reasonable enquiries’ to locate them. 

These enquiries must include making enquiries of any addresses they lived at following your separation, giving details of when the Respondent was last seen or heard of, whether your children have any contact details, asking the Respondent’s bank or building society, any trade bodies or professional organisations, online searches, speaking to your spouse’s friends, family, employers etc. 

Our solicitors can guide you through these difficulties, provide advice on what enquiries you could make and, if necessary, assist you in progressing your divorce by making an application to dispense with service. 

What if I don’t have any contact details for my spouse?

If you don’t have contact details for your spouse then this would delay your divorce because the court has to be satisfied that your spouse is aware of the proceedings. Our solicitors can take you through some of the different enquiries you will need to make based on your particular circumstances. 

This situation requires careful, tailored advice and what has worked for a friend or family member may not work for you.

If you have made all of the enquiries that our solicitors have recommended and it is not possible to locate your spouse then our solicitors will give you advice about applying to the court for permission to dispense with service.

How to start the divorce process

If your marriage has broken down and you wish to divorce the first step is to issue an application for a divorce. You can make this application on your own or jointly with your spouse. 

If it is a sole application and you commence proceedings against your partner, then you are the Applicant and they are the Respondent.

There is only one ground for divorce, this is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. You will need to confirm you believe the marriage has irretrievably broken down as part of the divorce application.

How long does the divorce process take in the UK?

Divorce proceedings will take a minimum of six months but the likelihood is it will take longer.

Delays may occur if the Respondent doesn’t respond in time, if there are court delays, if you have reached a financial settlement and wish to turn the agreement into a consent order or if it has been necessary to make an application to court for a financial order. 

It is important to remember that obtaining a divorce only brings the marriage to an end and does not deal with financial issues or the arrangements for your children. 

These issues are often more complex and can be more emotionally difficult to deal with when a relationship breaks down. 

How much does a divorce cost?

At AFG Law we offer a series of competitive fixed fees to assist our clients:

Divorce (Petitioner)£550 + VATDivorce (Petitioner) Jill Parratt£650 + VAT
Divorce (Respondent)£275 + VATDivorce (Respondent) Jill Parratt£400 + VAT

These fees relate to a fixed piece of work to obtain a divorce and do not include dealing with financial matters or arrangements for children

The Family Court charges a court fee when a divorce, nullity or dissolution petition is issued. This is currently £593.

What happens if I can’t afford divorce costs?

If you are on a low income or receive certain state benefits you may be entitled to fee remission. This means you could have the court fee reduced or you may not have to pay it at all. Our solicitors can discuss this with you and assist you to fill in the relevant court form.

Legal aid is available for divorce if you are able to meet the evidence requirements for private family law matters, are on a low income, in receipt of certain state benefits and only have a small amount of financial assets.

Dividing assets in the divorce process

Dealing with financial matters can be one of the most difficult areas of the divorce process.

The aim of the Court, and the same principles are followed during negotiation and mediation, is to achieve a fair financial settlement considering each individual divorcing couples’ circumstances. 

Some of the assets that you may need to divide up, with professional help, are:

  • Savings
  • Family home or other property
  • Pensions
  • Businesses
  • Vehicles
  • Outstanding debts

There are different ways to deal with financial matters; our solicitors can advise you on negotiation, mediation or court proceedings if an agreement can’t be reached.

Why should I use a solicitor to get a divorce?

Most people don’t have in-depth knowledge about family law or the divorce process, fewer have experience of how the family courts deal with divorce and what to do if things go wrong. 

Our specialist divorce solicitors can guide you through your options, ensure you select the best fact for your circumstances and tell you what evidence you’ll need.

Initial advice means the divorce process starts off on solid foundations and is therefore less likely to result in delays for errors to be rectified further down the line.

We can also tell you immediately whether or not there will be implications in respect of the division of the marital assets

If you instruct AFG Law to represent you in your divorce our solicitors will speak to your spouse or their solicitors so you don’t have to and can also represent you in court proceedings.

Financial proceedings can be extremely complex and the implications of getting it wrong can seriously affect your future.

Our divorce and finances solicitors can take you through financial disclosure, scrutinise the financial disclosure received from your spouse, suggest appropriate questions, make proposals based on the factors the court would apply and negotiate on your behalf.

Our solicitors will work with you to achieve the best possible outcome for your future. 

Instructing AFG Law to represent you during divorce proceedings, to resolve financial issues and/or the arrangements for your children can save you time, money and reduce the emotional impact upon you.

Divorce solicitors at AFG Law  

Our divorce solicitors are sensitive yet tenacious and they will always have your best interests, both emotionally and financially, at the forefront of their minds.

Our solicitors will always try and achieve the best possible outcome for you and achieve that in the most cost effective way possible.

Our Family Law Solicitors have a wealth of knowledge and experience in relation to dealing with both the divorce process and reaching a financial settlement.