What is divorce? That’s a question that is searched via Google almost 400 times a month – indicating that many in the UK do not fully understand the full concept of divorce. It is a legal act, a ruling that sees your marriage permanently ended in the eyes of the law. However, it is not the only way to separate from a partner and is in fact generally the final step taken after a lengthy process. So what does divorce mean, really?

  • Divorce is not an arrangement to live apart. This can be done with a legal separation.
  • Divorce IS a legal ruling that ends a marriage when the marriage has broken down irreconcilably.

When deciding to divorce, you need to consider some key factors. Firstly, will your partner agree? If they will, then divorce is a relatively simple matter that involves filing for divorce with the court. Child arrangements and finance division are now part of the separation process, so will be dealt with during your proceedings.  

To actually start a divorce, you need to establish one of the following facts:

  • Your partner has committed adultery.
  • Your partner has behaved unreasonably.
  • Your partner has deserted you for two years or more.
  • You are separated and have lived apart for two years, and the partner consents to this.
  • You have lived apart for five years or more. No consent is needed in this case.

You will file a divorce petition in court, which contains information about your marriage, children in your care and reasons for divorce. Once this is submitted and you’ve paid a fee, your spouse becomes the respondent. They will then have to file an ‘Acknowledgement of service’ form – if they do not contest, the divorce goes ahead.

Financial reality

Many people divorcing assume that the procedure itself organises your finances – this is untrue. This can obviously be a subjective, contested thing – and often you will need a mediation process or a consultation with a family lawyer. There is a possibility that organising finances will end up in court. The judge will make a ruling, with the priority placed on children. Judges will assess:

  • All property you own
  • Your mortgage
  • Your incomes
  • Your savings
  • Any pensions
  • The needs of your children

If you cannot agree on a share and it goes to court, finances will be divided through the sharing principle, the needs principle and the compensation principle.

  • The sharing principle assumes that marriage is a partnership and as such assets are divided equally. Whatever has been built up during the marriage, such as the home, savings and pensions, is divided equally. Income is not treated the same way and one party may pay maintenance to the other.
  • The needs principle works after the equal sharing is worked out and assesses what each of you will need in future. You may have to work out expenditure for both of you to meet needs, and how to provide property for each of you. This can mean one of you ends up renting rather than owning.
  • The compensation principle is more complicated and is often discretionary.

Ultimately, divorce can be a costly thing for you and your family. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, hence one of the grounds being around separation – which encourages both parties to live separately to see if they are ready for a divorce. If you cannot agree on financial terms, you will need a family law solicitor to ensure you are advised appropriately.

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