A Simple Guide to Divorce Procedure in NI

weddingrings

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 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?

There will be Court fees payable for issuing divorce proceedings.  these include a fee for the issuing of the divorce petition, setting the case down for Hearing and then obtaining a copy of the Decree Absolute.  these fees increase every tax year though are currently around £600-£700.00.   There will be solicitor’s 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

 

 

LIFE BITE: The Blame Game No More – England & Wales to remove fault-based divorce ground.

weddingrings2

It has been announced today that the law governing divorce in England & Wales is to be changed to allow spouses to divorce on a ‘no fault’ ground.

Under the current law, if a couple wishes to divorce without waiting for a period of separation to expire, one of them must allege adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour by the other.

The new reform of the law will remove the need for the end of a marriage to have been someone’s ‘fault’ and instead, a spouse will only need to state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Whilst England & Wales are set to introduce legislation to effect this change as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, the law on divorce will for now remain unchanged in Northern Ireland

What are the current grounds for divorce in NI?

It may be useful to set out the current grounds upon which you can apply for divorce in Northern Ireland.  It is important firstly to highlight that you need to have been married for at least 2 years before divorcing in Northern Ireland.  This does not mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years after marriage– you can of course live separately – however until this time frame has expired, you will be unable to petition for divorce on any of the grounds below.

When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: –

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

This is where you must evidence that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide-ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, emotional abuse, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions.

  1. Adultery

In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.

  1. Two Year’s Separation with Consent

This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce.  You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.

  1. Desertion for Two Years

This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.

Five Year’s Separation

This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

The introduction of the ‘no fault’ ground will be welcome by many for allowing unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible, therefore easing some of the stress, pain and bitterness that can often endure during separation.  Some people however would argue that the ‘no fault’ ground may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.
Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ — feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle.  Certainly, a divorce that can be dealt with as amicably, quickly and as cost-effectively as possible for both parties should always be promoted and encouraged.

For further information on any aspect of divorce law and procedure, please feel free to contact us here or by using the form below.