After the long Christmas period stuck at home with your partner, children and extended family, and the prospect of another 365 days together ahead, spousal tensions can be running high into the new year.
This combination of factors results in divorce lawyers seeing the highest amount of interest on 7 January – the first Monday back at work after the holidays. In fact the date is so popular for divorce applications in the UK that it is known colloquially in the industry as ‘divorce day’.
Goodman Ray solicitors tell HuffPost UK that people shouldn’t rush into anything permanent: “Our advice is always to take a breath and don’t rush into initiating a divorce, and look at alternative options like mediation or other dispute resolution forums.”
But if your mind is set, how do you go about starting the process, how much is it going to cost and can it be done and dusted by the end of 2019?
Who Can Get A Divorce?
The government website says you qualify for a divorce in England and Wales (the rules are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland) if you’ve been married for at least a year and your relationship has permanently broken down.
You must also have a marriage that is legally recognised in the UK and usually also have a permanent home in England or Wales.
On What Grounds Can I Get A Divorce?
There is one sole ground for a divorce which is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is proved by reference to one of five facts.
Adultery: Your husband or wife had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex. The law recognises the act of adultery as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. But you cannot give adultery as a reason if you lived together as a couple for six months after you found out about it. It is worth noting that if you cite adultery and include the name of the person your partner cheated on you with in your application, the third party will also get copies of the paperwork when you apply for the divorce.
Unreasonable behaviour: Your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with that person. This could include physical violence, verbal abuse, such as insults or threats, drunkenness or drug-taking and refusing to pay for housekeeping.
Desertion: Your husband or wife has left you without your agreement, without a good reason, to end your relationship, for more than two years in the past two and half years. You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of six months in this period.
Separated for more than two years: You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for more than two years and both parties agree to divorce. Your husband or wife must agree in writing. You can be separated while living in the same home as long as you’re not together as a couple (for example, sleeping and eating apart).
Separated for at least five years: You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for at least five years, even if your husband or wife disagrees.
Can You Claim A ‘No-Fault’ Divorce?
In February 2019, justice secretary David Gauke, confirmed he would bring in legislation to enact no-fault divorces in the UK removing the need for separating couples to wait for years or allocate blame for the collapse of their relationship.
Although the legislation is yet to be passed, this could be the future meaning long and protracted divorce battles needn’t happen.
The issue was thrown in the spotlight in the case of Owens vs. Owens, whereby wife Tini Owens sought a divorce from her husband of 40 years on the basis that she felt unhappy, unloved and unappreciated.
It was determined by the court that this did not amount to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. She took the case to the Court of Appeal, but the original ruling was upheld and it was stated that the law was correctly applied.
How Much Does A Divorce Cost?
The person issuing the divorce petition (ie. applying for the divorce) will have to pay a base rate of £750 plus vat and court fee of £550. The recipient will have to pay £100 plus vat assuming that person agrees that the marriage has broken down. So in theory your divorce could cost less than £1500 in total.
However, Mark Sage, legal director at solicitors TLT LLP says the trickier part is estimating cost when there are disputes involved – this will depend on quantity of assets and parties agreement on how to settle.
Sage says: “Costs will range from say £3,000 to £25,000 and disbursements for average divorces where matters are agreed, but can rise significantly beyond that where financial proceedings are issued and contested.”
For a realistic estimate a survey by Aviva Family Finance found the average cost of marital breakdown is £14,500 – a figure that has risen 14% since 2014.
How Long Does A Divorce Take?
If you’re hoping to have it done and dusted by the end of January you could be in for a surprise.
Mark Sage says: “In terms of timescales currently the court system is extremely overloaded and so realistically from start to finish you will take approximately six months assuming financial matters are agreed. If not then usually it is about a year to 18 months where a reasonable level of assets are involved.”
How Do I Start The Divorce Process?
To apply for a divorce you’ll need your husband or wife’s full name, address and your original marriage certificate. As well as any proof of name change if you’ve changed it since you got married.
You can apply for a divorce online via the government portal and fill in the divorce application ‘divorce petition’ form, otherwise known as a D8. You need to send three copies of the form to your nearest divorce centre (find your nearest one here). Remember to keep your own copy of the forms too.
If your husband or wife agrees to go ahead with your divorce petition, the next stage is applying for a ‘decree nisi’ – a document that says the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce.
If your husband or wife does not agree to the divorce, you can still apply for a decree nisi at this stage but you’ll have to go to a court hearing to discuss the case, where a judge will decide whether to grant you it.
After the decree nisi has been granted, you’ll have to wait 43 days (six weeks and one day) before you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ to end the marriage. The decree absolute is the legal document that officially ends your marriage.
If I Don’t Get A Divorce Can I Get An Annulment?
The vast majority of couples looking to dissolve a marriage do so by the divorce process, but there are other methods of ending a marriage. Annulment refers to marriages which, for one reason or another, were either void at the outset or have become voidable at some point after formation.
This method of dissolving a marriage is rarely used (in 2016, there were only 360 annulments) as the reasons for doing so are more unusual: the parties were closely related (e.g. parent and child or siblings), either party is under 16 or at the time of marriage one party was married to someone else.