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Ten Things You Need to Know Before You File for Divorce

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As the demise of Nigella Lawson's marriage to Charles Saatchi unfolds like a slow-motion car crash through every broadsheet and tabloid, we pause to ponder ten things that people who don't have unlimited credit cards (or jiffy bags full of cash on top of the fridge) ought to bear in mind before they file for divorce.

1. Divorce in England and Wales is based on "irretrievable breakdown" but this claim must be proved by evidence of one or more of the following; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent, or five years separation without consent.

2. Most people who want a quickie divorce and don't have evidence of adultery are forced to file on the grounds of 'unreasonable behaviour', but unless you have photographic evidence of your husband trying to choke you over lunch, it can be a difficult thing to prove.

3. Because 'unreasonable behaviour' is such a subjective accusation, courts don't actually bother testing the merit of most claims, which means you don't need to dig to the bottom of the barrel.

4. There is very rarely any point in contesting divorce proceedings because the fact that one party to the marriage has presented a petition is a clear indication that the marriage has broken down.

5. Celebrity divorces seem to happen in the blink of an eye but it actually takes about 4 or 5 months for an undefended divorce to go through from start to finish. This includes the time it takes for the court to process the papers, and a minimum wait of at least 6 weeks between the 'decree nisi' (provisional divorce), and the 'decree absolute' (final curtain).

6. In the vast majority of cases, the grounds chosen have absolutely no bearing on the division of assets, or access to children.

7. One mistake many people make is that they believe that arrangements for financial support and child maintenance have to be in place before a divorce petition is filed. They don't. All that stuff can be sorted out at a later date.

8. Unless there is a dispute about costs, arrangements for children, or finances, there should be no need to go to court. Your lawyer can arrange everything but don't make the mistake of using your lawyer as a therapist. They charge by the hour and there are no discounts if you spend forty of those minutes crying.

9. The law encourages couples to try to agree on arrangements for financial support and child maintenance without resorting to the courts, but be warned, voluntary maintenance agreements are not legally binding, or enforceable, so a parent who stops paying can not be forced to do so. Once a voluntary agreement fails, your only option is the child support agency. Good luck with that.

10. If you are on a low income and have less than £8,000 in savings, shares, investments or property you may be able to get legal aid to help cover the cost of mediation, but you can only get legal aid for divorce proceedings if you've been a victim of domestic violence, or abuse.

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