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Divorce and separation – the legal process



The legal processes and rights in divorce or separation (ending a non-married relationship) or ending a civil partnership are quite different. We explain the basic process for each

Separation rights: ending a non-married relationship

There is no legal process to the ending of a relationship in which you were not married. However, you may still use the courts to help you make arrangements if you are unable to reach agreement by any other method. You can ask the courts to deal with:

  • care and contact for your child
  • the division of any joint assets

Ending your marriage

To end your marriage you must ask a court to grant you a divorce on the grounds that:

  • you or your wife has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with her
  • your wife’s behaviour has been so bad that you can no longer bear to live with her
  • your wife deserted you at least two years ago
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least two years and she agrees to a divorce
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least five years

Fathers and children: the law   

The process for divorce is as follows:

1. Petition

The divorce is initiated by you or your wife lodging a petition with the court. This person is known as the petitioner. The petition is a document that sets out details of the marriage and the grounds for divorce.

Because you have dependent children, you will also need to complete a document called a Statement of Arrangements. This sets out the details such as where the children will live and arrangements for contact.

 2. Acknowledgment of service

The petition is sent to the court. The court stamps the petition and a copy is sent to the other spouse. They are called the Respondent. They complete a form acknowledging receipt called an acknowledgment of service which states whether the divorce will be contested.

If the Respondent chooses not to contest the divorce, the Petitioner can apply for the first decree, the Decree Nisi, by completing a statement in support of petition, Most divorces are not contested.

 3. Decree nisi

If a district judge is satisfied that everything is in order, they will order that the matter can be listed for the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.

4. Decree absolute

Six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi is granted the Petitioner can apply for the decree to be made absolute. This ends the marriage.

Ending a Civil Partnership

In order to legally end a civil partnership you must ask the court to grant:

  • a dissolution order – your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year
  • a separation order – your civil partnership does not need to have lasted for a year
  • an annulment – where there are questions around the legality of the partnership

If you have children, you will need to agree contact arrangements. You may also ask the law to rule on issues around your finances and housing. 

About the author

Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options – traditional, and collaborative law – to best meet the needs of the individual clients.

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