Grounds for Divorce/Dissolution

There is only one ground for divorce/dissolution and that is that the marriage/civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. The person who starts the divorce proceedings is known as ‘the petitioner’ and their spouse/civil partner is called ‘the respondent’. To satisfy the court that there has been an irretrievable breakdown the petitioner must prove one of the following five facts:

(a) The respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent. This “fact” is not available to civil partners who must instead rely on the adultery as a “fact” of unreasonable behaviour under “b” below.

(b) The respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.

(c) The respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce.

(d) You have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce and the respondent consents to a decree being granted.

(e) You have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately before the start of the divorce.

Most divorces are based on facts (a) ‘adultery’ or (b) ‘behaviour’. ‘Adultery’ is an act of sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. To be able to rely on this in the divorce the adultery must have happened in the six months before separation or at any time after separation. There is no need to name the person with whom the adultery took place or indeed to involve them in the court proceedings.

The test for ‘behaviour’ is subjective and it does not need to consist of extensive violence, drug or alcohol addiction or other extreme behaviour. A combination of less obvious behaviour can be sufficient. Often issues like working too much (or not working enough), showing too much (or too little) affection, combined with a number of other similar factors are used.

Divorce Procedure

Commencing the divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership is started by the completion of a “petition”. The contents of the petition are individual to the particular divorce/dissolution. Once you have approved the petition (“the petitioner”), it is sent to the court together with the other requisite documents and the court fee of £410. Once the court office has processed the petition, it will be sent to the respondent together with an acknowledgement of service form. The respondent should complete this form indicating whether it is intended to defend the divorce/dissolution and return it to the court. If the respondent does not return the form, it may eventually be necessary for us to arrange for another set of the documents to be served on the respondent, unless we can prove in some other way that the respondent has received the petition and accompanying documents from the court. This may for example be done by a process server giving it to the respondent personally.

Once the acknowledgement of service form is received from the court, or once we can prove that the respondent has received the petition, an application for the conditional divorce order, the decree nisi/conditional order is sent to the court. This is the point at which the district judge looks at the petition and decides whether the petitioner is entitled to a divorce/dissolution. The court will then set a date for the formal pronouncement of the decree nisi/conditional order, which may be a week to a month or so after the district judge has approved the paperwork. This is only the first divorce order and those involved remain married until the final order, the decree absolute/final dissolution order. The petitioner can apply for the decree absolute/final dissolution order six weeks after the date of the pronouncement of the decree nisi/conditional order. The court should process the application within a week or so, but it often takes longer.

In all, the divorce can take as little as four to six months from start to finish. However, it can take a lot longer if either or both parties delay in taking particular steps during the proceedings, or if there are problems with the court.