A Simple Guide to Divorce Procedure in NI


Ending a marriage can be one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s life.

Making the decision to end your marriage brings with it many worries and fears about how life will change upon divorce. The last thing that any person going through a divorce wants to worry about is having to navigate a long, complicated legal process to reach the end result.
It will be a relief to many that the legal procedure for divorce here in Northern Ireland is fairly straightforward. We have put together below some information for you (minus the legal jargon!) to explain how this process works.

What is the procedure for divorce?

The first step in getting divorce is to issue what is known as a Divorce Petition. This is simply a document which sets out details needed by the Judge to consider your divorce. Importantly, the Petition will detail the grounds on which you are applying for a divorce. If you are the person who has filed for divorce, you will be referred to as the ‘Petitioner’ in these proceedings and your spouse will be referred to as ‘the Respondent’.

The Divorce Petition, once finalised, is then stamped by the Court and served on your spouse who is asked to complete an Acknowledgement of Service Form and lodge this with the Court. This form will confirm that your spouse has received the divorce papers and will detail whether they intend to defend your Petition for divorce.

If your spouse is not challenging the divorce, the case will then be listed for a Decree Nisi hearing.

What is a Decree Nisi hearing?

This is the initial hearing where the Judge will have to determine whether your marriage has irretrievably broken down.   You must attend at Court and give evidence at this hearing.   If the Judge is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been met, a Decree Nisi is granted – this is an Order stating that are entitled to obtain a Divorce.

Am I divorced after I get my Decree Nisi??

No. The Decree Nisi is simply the first stage of the divorce. In order to be fully legally divorced, you must obtain a Decree Absolute.  You may apply for a Decree Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi hearing. Your Solicitor makes the application for a Decree Absolute after this time has passed and you are not required to attend at Court.

What about the family finances and property?

Often, if the division of the family finances and property has not been agreed between you and your spouse, Court Proceedings would then be issued to decide how to divide the finances. These proceedings are called Ancillary Relief proceedings.  In cases where the family finances and property have not been finalised, the Petitioner is generally advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until after the finances are resolved.  This is because both parties could lose certain rights such as widow pension benefits.

How much will a Divorce cost?

At the time of writing*, the Court costs for a Decree Nisi are £575.  There will be solicitors’ professional costs on top of this.  Most solicitors will give a quote for a divorce in advance of lodging anything with the Court.   Legal Aid may be available depending on your financial circumstances.

If Ancillary Relief proceedings are issued to resolve the financial matters after Decree Nisi, legal costs are likely to be calculated on a time-spent basis.  It is important that you speak with your solicitor about costs before issuing proceedings.

What about the future?

If you had made a Will before getting divorced, it is important to review this after your divorce. Once a divorce has been granted, any part of a Will leaving property to your former spouse will be invalid.

Although a divorce ends your marriage, often you and your former spouse will have to continue to share a relationship with one another for the sake of your children. It is therefore in everyone’s interests to try to ensure that the divorce, if at all possible, is dealt as amicably as possible so that despite your differences at the end of their marriage, you can both move on to the next stage of your lives.
If you would like more information on the legal process of divorce or if you have a query regarding your own divorce, please do not hesitate to contact claire or karen by email or leave your comments confidentially below.

*October 2015



The Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s Network

BME Womens Network
Claire Choulavong is the Women Development Worker for the Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s Network based at NICEM.
In her guest blog, Claire provides us with some information about the BME Women’s Network and the services and support it provides:-


The aim of the Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s Network is to promote gender and racial equality for ethnic minority women in Northern Ireland.

When the UK government was being examined by the Committee for the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in July 2013, NICEM ran its own research alongside.  This research consisted of a 67 page long questionnaire, translated into 8 different languages, along with community-based seminars and workshops held with ethnic minority women in Northern Ireland.

With the findings of this research, along with NICEM’s broader policy, research development and advocacy work, NICEM produced a shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

After our report was published, five women representing the black and minority ethnic community, along with staff from NICEM, went to Geneva and presented the findings at a hearing in Geneva in July 2013.

When our report was published, there was a huge amount of momentum within the black and minority ethnic communities and so was born the Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s Network!

The BME Women’s Network reaches out to women across Northern Ireland, asking them to get involved in the process of change. The Network has met with several women’s groups across the country, holding information sessions and talking to BME women about their rights.

In these internationally troubling times, organisations and groups such as the BME Women’s Network provide valuable support, information and importantly a voice to women from black and ethnic minority communities who are experiencing difficulties with life here in Northern Ireland.
The Network is an incredible opportunity for women in Northern Ireland to tell the world about their lives, what matters to them, and what their government should be doing about it.
If you would like to become involved with the BME Women’s Network, please contact Claire Choulavong at claire@nicem.org.uk.
You can also out the BME Women’s Network Facebook page www.facebook.com/BMEWN


LIFE BITE: The Sharland & Gohil appeals: Another Bite at the Cherry?

apple-150579_1280There was much press coverage over the Supreme Court’s decision in the Sharland & Gohil appeals last week to allow both Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil to reopen their divorce settlements after they discovered that their husbands had not made full disclosure of their financial position at the time the Court decided the split of the matrimonial assets.

In all Court proceedings dealing with the division of assets on divorce, each spouse is legally required to provide the other with full  details of their entire financial position. This information is required to ensure that the Court and both parties are aware of the full extent of each other’s financial circumstances at the time a decision is being made as to how the matrimonial assets are to be divided.

It seems only right that one spouse’s fraud in failing to disclose their full financial position at the time of settlement should result in the case being reopened to ensure that a fair outcome is achieved on all of the facts.

The assets in most marriages will not be as substantial as Mrs Sharland’s – she had initially accepted a £10 million settlement from her husband! However, ensuring that each spouse obtains their fair share of all of the assets is no less important in more modest cases.

In reality, the circumstances in which both Mrs Sharland and Mrs Gohil subsequently found out that their former spouses had been lying about their finances are fairly unusual – after the divorces were intially settled, Mr Sharland’s business was floated on the stock market  and Mr Gohil’s full assets were revealed during a money laundering trial.  In most cases, if the extent of each party’s assets is not fully revealed during the divorce case, it is unlikely that this information would be discovered by the other spouse at a later date.

There has been a lot of debate that these appeal decisions may lead to an “opening of the floodgates” with countless divorces being reopened in a bid by one spouse to try and have “another bite at the cherry”.  Others however believe that the decision made by the Court in these appeals may act as a deterrent to others tempted to hide assets out of the Court’s reach.

If you would like any further information on this issue or any matter concerning divorce or division of matrimonial assets, please feel free to contact us here or leave us a message below.

NSPCC Northern Ireland

NSPCCNIAlmost 2,000 children in Northern Ireland were identified as needing protection from abuse last year.

The NSPCC are the leading children’s charity in the UK and Channel Islands fighting to end child abuse.   Through our work, the NSPCC help children who have been abused rebuild their lives, protect those at risk, and find the best ways of preventing abuse from happening.

At NSPCC Northern Ireland, we provide support to parents and families in caring for their children. We assist families that are going through difficult time, like battling addiction or overcoming mental health problems, as well as providing therapeutic services to help children move on from abuse.

We also provide guidance to professionals such as social workers to help them make the best decisions for children, across the UK.

What services are available in Northern Ireland?

The following NSPCC services are available in Northern Ireland:


Childline is a 24 hour helpline for children and young people who need help and support. It is a private and confidential place for a child to talk to one of our counsellors, all of whom are trained staff and volunteers with experience of listening and talking to children and young people. Call 0808 1111, or access support by email or direct message by visiting www.childline.org.uk

NSPCC Helpline

The NSPCC Helpline provides help and support to thousands of parents, professionals and families. This is a place adults can contact by phone or online to get advice or share their concerns about a child, anonymously if they wish.

Professionals such as teachers and doctors also contact us on the Helpline for information guidance and impartial advice from professional counsellors on a range of issues, no matter how small they may seem. You can call the Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

Young Witness Service

The NSPCC Young Witness Service offers free, independent and confidential support and assistance to children and young people who have to go through the trauma of giving evidence in court.   NSPCC workers and volunteers provide information and advice to children and young people – as well as their family, friends and supported, – before, during and after a trial.

This service is available to young witnesses in all types of crime and in every Crown, Magistrate or Youth Court. The service can be contacted on 028 2044 1650 for further information.

Other services

The NSPCC Northern Ireland operates a range of other services out of centres in Belfast, Craigavon and Foyle.  These services include the following:-

  • Sexual abuse recovery services – protection, prevention and support services for child who have been or are at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Neglect services – aimed at assessing and identifying neglect, providing support to parents and reviewing family situations to protect children at risk of harm.
  • Early intervention services – aimed at providing ante natal and post natal support to help parents cope with the pressure of having a baby
  • Family support services – services aimed at supporting parents with issues surrounding domestic violence, alcohol abuse and mental health issues
  • Helping children living with parents with mental health issues
  • Support for parents struggling to take care of their children
  • Support for young people in care.

Visit www.nspcc.org.uk/services or call 0808 800 5000 for more information on the services we provide

For more information on the services NSPCC provide, please visit www.nspcc.org.uk/services or call 0808 800 5000

Mediation & Relationship Breakdown: Making Your Child’s Rights a Priority


This week is Mediation Awareness Week 2015 and you may have heard Joan Davis, Director of Family Mediation NI talking about the benefits of mediation this morning on U105 FM.  

To help mark Mediation Awareness Week 2015, Joan has provided Life Law NI with a guest blog looking at the importance of making your child’s rights a priority when dealing with relationship breakdown and how mediation can help assist you in doing this.


“25 years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the question needs to be asked – why does society still ignore child rights?

We hear a lot about human rights, animal rights, parental rights, minority rights and so on from mainstream media, but what about the rights of children?

Article 9 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states: –

’Children have the right to live with their parents unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents unless this might hurt the child’.

Let’s look at that statement in the context of 21st Century family life here in Northern Ireland:-

  • In 2014, 8,443 children in NI were the subject of final Court orders in Children Order cases.
  • Of these 8,443 children, 3,383 were under 4 years old, 2,468 between 5-8 years old, 1,683 between 9-12 years old and 90 were between 16-18 years old.
  • In 2013, 42% of the births in NI were to unmarried parents.
  • A total of 4,100 children were affected by 2,403 divorces in 2013, yet divorce statistics do not reflect current relationship and family patterns in NI family life.

It is important to consider that behind every statistic, there is a child potentially being denied a healthy relationship with one parent.

You may ask; ‘Where are a child’s rights and voice in all of these adult-constructed life-changing experiences?’   Ok , after separation, some children of a certain appropriate age will be spoken to within the legal system by a Court Children’s Officer and their views and wishes will be sought.  But is this the way we should be approaching our future private family life choices, living as separated parents?

You could also ask; ‘Why do parents default to the law when a romantic relationship ends?   What can we do as a society to begin changing a deeply ingrained mind-set that essentially disables otherwise capable people and renders them incapable of making a sensible decision about their own children’s future?

Independent legal and financial advice is always useful to enable informed decision-making upon separation.  However, for better long-term relationships and for the overall well-being of the child and safeguarding of the child’s rights for the future, Family Mediation NI offers a 21st Century approach to modern family disputes.  We believe mediation should be the natural and first choice for most separating parents.

Entering the process of family mediation empowers parents.  It enables parents to be the natural decision makers and encourages the child’s voice to be equal, to be heard and to be respected.

Child-focused mediation and, in appropriate cases, direct child consultation moves a family from an acrimonious, adversarial, ‘blame game’ system of behaviours to a responsible, future-focused, co-parenting state of mind.

Mediation provides the thinking, talking and listening space, the negotiating space and the neutral space.  It facilitates option generation, assists agreement on a bespoke parenting plan and ultimately a mediated agreement that informs the way forward and introduces the learning of a new form of communication as separate but loving parents, with the child at the heart of the process.

Joan Davis

FMNIJoan Davis is the Director of Family Mediation NI.  Mediation Awareness Week takes place in Northern Ireland from 19th October – 23rd October 2015. Contact Family Mediation NI for more information and details or check out www.mediationawarenessweek.ie