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There is an abundance of information and advice available on the internet for those facing divorce proceedings but, unfortunately, a lot of this is inaccurate and misleading. Online divorce forums are full of answers to questions about divorce which sound authoritative but are so often entirely wrong. Time and time again clients come in to see me with misconceptions of the basic principles of the divorce process. It is always important to seek advice from a specialist family lawyer when you separate, even if you and your partner are not yet considering divorce proceedings, to ensure that you understand your rights, obligations and the options open to you. In this blog I will use the language of marriage and divorce, but the same principles apply to the breakdown and dissolution of a civil partnership.
The most frequent misconception I come across is the idea that if a decision to separate is mutual, with no adultery or abuse, then you must wait 2 years before you can start divorce proceedings. Others believe that if you don’t wait until you have been separated for 2 years then the proceedings will be more difficult or you will need to attend court.
It is true that there is no such thing as a ‘no fault divorce’ available in England and Wales until you have been separated for 2 years or more. Often it is important to finalise the matrimonial finances swiftly by way of a consent order which can only be made within divorce proceedings, or for emotional reasons you may feel that you need to draw a line under the marriage and move on. What can you do if your separation was a mutual decision?
Firstly, it is important to understand that there is only one ground of divorce; that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. In most cases, it is safe to say the marriage has irretrievably broken down by the time one party takes the active step of filing a divorce petition. It is almost never a decision taken lightly. The spouse who files the petition is known as the petitioner and the other party is known as the respondent.
It is then necessary to support the assertion that the marriage has irretrievably broken down with one of 5 facts which are set out in statute: –
In conclusion, it is not the case that you need to be separated for 2 years before you can start divorce proceedings, although you will need to agree to apportion blame on one party to the marriage in the petition.
My own feeling is that this is a somewhat unsatisfactory situation for many of my clients who want to deal with their divorce amicably and with dignity. Resolution is campaigning for change as it doesn’t believe that the current law properly provides for those experiencing the breakdown of the marriage in the modern age. I share this view. As a family lawyer of course I come across situations where one of the spouses has committed adultery or a significant wrong against the other, but in my experience most marriages end by a mutual decision of both parties. Often they agree that they have simply ‘fallen out of love’. Shouldn’t the law encourage and support a couple who want to deal with their marriage breakdown in an adult and amicable manner?
If you are considering or going through divorce proceedings, you may find it helpful to take a look at our divorce factsheet which explains the process.
This blog was originally written by Lauren Guy. For a consultation with a member of our specialist family law team please contact us.