A Simple Guide to Divorce Procedure in NI

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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