FAQs around divorce
From 6 April 2022, the process will change. The first stage in the divorce process is to issue a divorce application with the court. This is the document which outlines that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. If you are a sole applicant, the divorce application will be sent to your husband/wife, and they will have to acknowledge receipt of the application in order for the divorce to proceed. Alternatively, you and your husband/wife can make a joint application together, and the divorce application will be sent to both of you for acknowledgment.
The law lays down a minimum allowable period of 20 weeks between the application and the conditional order. After 20 weeks you can apply to the court for a conditional order. This is the stage when the court satisfies themselves that you are entitled to a divorce. Once you receive your conditional order, you can apply for your final order after 6 weeks and one day. The Final Order formally ends your marriage.
There can be complications to the divorce process if, for example, your husband/wife refuses to acknowledge the divorce application. At these times it is in your best interests to obtain legal advice as to the best way to proceed.
Our experienced divorce lawyers understand the stress of facing a divorce and can make the process simple, hassle free and affordable.
How much a divorce costs very much depends on how your spouse responds to the divorce proceedings. There is a set Court fee of £593 which you will have to pay if you issue the Application and any Solicitor fees will be in addition to that. Some people may be eligible for a fee exemption. Solicitor fees are usually between £500 to £1,000 if matters are straightforward, however, if your spouse decides not to respond to the divorce or there is an issue regarding jurisdiction (i.e. whether you should be divorced in England or Wales) the costs can significantly increase. Your costs are also typically higher if you are the Applicant rather than the Respondent.
At Ward Hadaway, we now offer 2 fixed fee options as follows:
- If you are starting the divorce process, our fixed fees are £500 + VAT (£600 in total) and the court fee of £593.
- If you are the respondent, our fixed fees are £250 + VAT (£300 in total). There are no court fees when you are the respondent.
You can contact one of our experienced divorce lawyers to discuss the fixed fee further and to find out what is and is not included within the overall cost by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or utilising any of the contact details listed below.
In some cases, it is a good idea to approach your spouse before issuing a divorce application so that you can agree on the best way to proceed and you could even try and reach an agreement as to how the costs of the divorce could be shared. These negotiations can take place through a Solicitor.
Please also be aware that these costs are in relation to the divorce process only. If you also need advice on your finances or any child care arrangements, there will potentially be additional Court, expert and Solicitor fees for this. We ensure all clients are provided with an estimate of all costs at the outset.
Maintenance Orders are capable of variation so if your income has reduced as a result of the pandemic, you may be entitled to reduce your payments. You should ensure that any reduction is reflected in a Court Order to ensure your ex-spouse cannot claim arrears from you.
It is not generally possible to vary capital and pension settlements included in Court Orders unless there has been a significant event, sometimes known as a “barder event”. The following four conditions must be satisfied:
- New events have occurred since the Order which invalidate the basis or fundamental assumption on which the Court Order was made and which were unforeseen and unforeseeable. This can include a change in the value of assets, employment status, inheritance and death.
- The new events occurred within a relatively short time of the Order being made.
- The Application to change the Order is made reasonably promptly.
- If the Application succeeded, this would not prejudice any third parties who have acquired assets in good faith e.g. if the family home has already been sold to a third party.
The applications relying on Covid as a significant event have had limited success. The circumstances in which the Barder principle may apply are few and far between. It is of note that the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 was not considered to be a Barder event.
Care should, therefore, be taken when deciding whether to pursue a change to the Divorce settlement and it is recommended that you speak to a specialist Family Law team like ours.
Matrimonial assets tend to be those which have been generated or accumulated during the marriage whereas non-matrimonial assets tend to be assets which are acquired outside of the marriage such as assets owned before marriage or assets received by one party during the marriage without contribution from the other such as through inheritance or a gift.
The discretion of the court when making financial awards is wide ranging and the way the court will deal with this distinction varies from case to case so it is always important to seek advice about your particular circumstances. However, in broad principles, any asset which is “matrimonial” in nature is usually shared unless there is good reason not to. If an asset is non-matrimonial, an argument could be raised that there ought to be a departure from an equal share of the asset to reflect the fact it is from a source external to the marriage. However:
- If financial resources are limited such that a party’s needs cannot be met without using the non-matrimonial property, the fact it is non-matrimonial will carry little weight, if any.
- The family home is seen as core to the marriage and is often treated differently. It is invariably treated as a matrimonial asset even if it would have been non-matrimonial in nature.
- If a non-matrimonial asset has been intermingled with a matrimonial asset, a court may place less weight on the fact it started as non-matrimonial in nature.
- If the parties were married for a short period of time, a court may place greater weight on the fact that an asset is non-matrimonial and may be persuaded to allow a greater departure from equality than if the parties have been married for a long period of time.
The court will always have a mind to fairness and is likely to take a step back and consider whether the overall division of the assets is “fair” bearing in mind the parties respective financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage.
Divorce is the main way to legally recognise that a marriage has come to an end. It allows the court to separate a couple’s finances and once granted, the parties are legally separate and able to re-marry again in the future.
Annulments are sometimes an option. Whereas divorce ends a marriage, annulments declare the marriage was not valid in the first place. The grounds for seeking an annulment are very fact specific (such as a lack of consent to marriage) but if it is granted, the parties are separated and it is as if they were never married. The court can however make financial awards similar to those in divorce proceedings after an annulment.
Sometimes couples may not wish to divorce but want legal recognition that they have separated. In such circumstances, they may consider a Judicial Separation. This grants the court powers to make some financial orders similar to those it can make on a divorce (such as spousal maintenance) but not all orders (such as pension sharing). With a Judicial Separation, the parties remain married so they cannot remarry and either party may seek a divorce at a later date.
A final option is to separate but not obtain a divorce. The court will not make any awards so the parties remain married but the parties can enter into a separation agreement regulating their finances. However, if either party seeks a divorce in the future, the court is not bound by the separation agreement and may decide to regulate the couple’s finances in a different way than was previously agreed.
A separation agreement is a legal agreement entered into by two individuals who have decided to end their romantic relationship and go their separate ways. Parties entering into separation agreements can be married, civil partners or cohabiting couples. The separation agreement sets out the agreed financial arrangements for the period of separation; it does not end the marriage or civil partnership. To end a marriage or civil partnership, a divorce or dissolution is required. It is important to acknowledge that the court’s jurisdiction in financial remedy proceedings on divorce can override the terms of a separation agreement.
Some couples may wish to enter into a separation agreement if they do not wish to divorce for religious, cultural or personal reasons. Alternatively, a separation agreement can be the first step toward divorce proceedings, or it can be used as a test to see if separation is the best thing for the couple.
Separation agreements are usually only appropriate where parties have already separated, or are going to separate in the near future, but do not want to start divorce proceedings straight away. If you would like some advice on whether a separation agreement would be the right thing for you and your partner, our specialist team of family solicitors would be glad to provide some legal advice.
Certain criteria need to be met to divorce in England and Wales. These criteria are generally based on where each party lives or is domiciled and how long they have lived in England and Wales. If you ex lives abroad, the more common grounds used are:
- That you were both last “habitually resident” in England and Wales and one continues to reside here
- That you are “habitually resident” in England and Wales and have resided here for at least one year immediately before applying for a divorce
- That you are “domiciled” and “habitually resident” in England and Wales and have resided there for at least six months immediately before applying for a divorce
- That you are “domiciled” in England and Wales
The test for whether you are “habitually resident” or “domiciled” for the requisite period of time can be quite fact specific so it is always best to seek legal advice.
If you meet the eligibility and start proceedings here, your ex may start competing proceedings abroad. In those circumstances, the court will consider where is most “convenient” and if the courts where you ex lives are found to be more convenient, it will stop the proceedings here. Convenience is fact specific but by way of example, if all of your assets are located in the country your ex resides in, it may be more convenient to base the proceedings there for ease of enforcing financial orders.
A pension attachment order can be used on divorce, dissolution of a civil partnership or as part of a judicial separation agreement. A pension attachment order requires payment by the pension company of some or all of a policyholder’s pension benefits to the ex-spouse or ex-civil partner, when the pension becomes payable to the policyholder. These benefits can be in the form of periodical payments (numerous payments over time and at specified intervals) or a lump sum (a single payment). If a pension attachment order is in existence and the pension concerned is transferred from one provider to another, the attachment order will be transferred to the new fund.
In practice, pension attachment orders are rarely used, as courts prefer to use pension sharing orders. Instead of paying the ex-spouse or ex-civil partner out of the policyholder’s fund, pension sharing orders divide rights under a pension scheme so that each spouse has their own independent rights under that scheme or under two separate schemes. For further details, read What is a Pension Sharing Order?
Pension sharing orders are used to redistribute a couple’s pension provisions following a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. When a pension sharing order is made, the paying party’s pension provider is instructed to transfer a specified percentage of that pension into a pension in the name of the receiving party. The pension is effectively lifted out of the paying party’s pension and paid into a pension belonging to the receiving party so that it becomes their pension to do with as they please. Once implemented, the paying party cannot dictate to the receiving party what they should do with the pension. It is worth remembering however that when a pension is transferred under a pension sharing order, it must be paid into another pension and it cannot be released as cash. A pension sharing order is also not available to couples who have chosen to have a judicial separation rather than a divorce/dissolution.
Dogs and other pets are often seen as a much loved member of the family but sadly when it comes to divorce, in the eyes of the law a pet falls into the same category as a TV or a toaster as nothing more than a person’s personal property. As such the court is likely to be more interested in who owns the dog by considering factors such as:
- who paid for the dog (ideally backed up with receipts)
- who is registered at the vet
- who is listed on the microchip database, and
- who is the provider of key supplies and food
This person is more likely to have a successful claim over the dog, even if the other party has a better emotional attachment and spent more time looking after the dog.
If it is unclear who owns the dog, a sympathetic judge may consider who is best placed to look after the dog but parties should be prepared for a fairly rough and ready decision. The court is often reluctant to deal with disputes such as pet ownership as it is more concerned with the bigger picture such as arrangements for the children and the overall financial division. It is therefore far preferable for the parties to reach an agreement themselves, perhaps with the assistance of mediation.
Read our recent article to find out more.
As a limited company has its own legal identity, the court cannot make orders directly against it. By way of example, if a limited company owns a house, the court could not order the company to transfer that house to the husband, even if the wife is the sole shareholder or wholly in control of the company. It is the company which owns the house, not the shareholder.
However this does not mean that a limited company is completely disregarded. If a party in a divorce is a shareholder of a limited company, it is likely the court will want to know how much the shares are worth which inevitably requires an assessment of the value of the company and its underlying assets and interests. The court could order that those shares are sold to realise their value. A court could order that there is a transfer of shares from one spouse to another, which frequently happens if both spouses are joint shareholders. Alternatively, the court may offset the value of a shareholding against other assets so the shareholder keeps the shares in full but their spouse keeps more of a different asset.
A company may also be seen as a source of liquidity if it holds excess cash. Whilst a court cannot order a company to pay a lump sum to somebody, it could make an order against a shareholder requiring them to make a cash payment to their spouse knowing full well that the only way to satisfy the payment is to extract cash from the company such as through declaring a dividend or taking a loan from the company.
Within divorce proceedings, the court can order that a property is sold and that the mortgage is discharged from the proceeds of sale before the remaining balance is distributed to the parties, thus bringing the mortgage to an end.
The court also has the power to order that a property owned in joint names is transferred into one of the spouse’s sole name. However the court cannot order the mortgage provider to transfer the mortgage into one of the parties’ names. A number of options are available to resolve this. Depending on the financial circumstances, the spouse receiving the property may be able to re-mortgage the property into their sole name. If that is not possible and the mortgage has to remain in joint names, the court may require the spouse retaining the property to be responsible for the mortgage and provide an indemnity to the other party so that if they stop paying the mortgage, the other spouse can take action against them. Alternatively, in certain cases, a court may transfer the property into one spouse’s name but order that the other spouse continues to pay the mortgage, perhaps for a period of time such as until children reach a particular age.
Spousal maintenance (also known as periodical payments) means regular income payments to support a former husband or wife. Spousal maintenance may be used to assist in achieving a fair outcome on divorce, nullity or judicial separation. The court will take into account the principles of needs, compensation and sharing when determining whether spousal maintenance is required.
A spousal periodical payments order is a continuing obligation for one party to pay the other a weekly or monthly sum. In some cases, periodical payments can be secured by a capital deposit, where the paying party makes an upfront payment into a fund; the money in the fund is then used to pay the party receiving the payments. In financial proceedings the courts in England and Wales have a wide discretion as to how they deal with each case, and it will consider the individual facts of each case when determining the duration and amount of any spousal maintenance it thinks should be paid.
Spousal periodical payments may be made for such term as the court thinks fit. The term for which spousal periodical payments are made can be extendable or non-extendable. If the term is non-extendable, the court can direct that the party receiving the payment may not apply to extend the term of the order. If the term is extendable, there must be ”exceptional justification” for the term to be extended.
Regardless of the duration of any spousal maintenance order, if the party receiving payment remarries or enters into a civil partnership the payments will usually cease.
Spousal periodical payments will stop if either party dies, unless they are secured periodical payments, in which case they will only stop if the party receiving the payment dies. If the paying party dies, the secured periodical payments will continue to be paid to the surviving party out of the capital deposit that was paid by the deceased party at the outset.
Spousal maintenance can be a complex area of law and therefore if you wish to discuss this further we would advise that you speak with one of our specialist matrimonial solicitors.
Mesher and Martin orders allow spouses to continue owning a property jointly post-separation until a certain trigger event happens. They are often referred to as “deferred orders for sale”. You may want a Mesher order if, for example, you want to stay in the family home with the children but you do not have the financial means to take over the mortgage.
Mesher and Martin orders are both types of settlement of property orders that can be used to adjust finances on divorce when the matrimonial assets are being split. A settlement of property order creates a trust over the property for the benefit of one or both parties (or for the benefit of a child of the family).
Both Mesher and Martin orders create a trust of land in which the parties hold the property as tenants in common in defined shares. This means that the property is owned jointly, but each party owns a separate share in the property. If one party dies, their share passes to their beneficiaries in accordance with their will or intestacy.
Mesher orders trigger an order for sale once a certain event happens. The proceeds of sale will then be split in accordance with the parties’ defined shares. Possible examples of triggering events under a Mesher order could be:
- Youngest child of the family reaching 18.
- Remarriage (or cohabitation) of the resident party.
- Death of the resident party.
- Further order.
When a Mesher order is in place, the joint legal ownership of the property is retained by both parties, even if only one of the parties remains living in the property. As the property remains jointly owned, the terms of the trust will often specify the contributions of each party to the mortgage payments, maintenance and upkeep of the property and insurance.
Mesher orders are complex and are often only appropriate in certain circumstances. This is because parties remain joined together in property ownership after their relationship or marriage has broken down.
A Martin order gives one party the right to occupy the former matrimonial home for life or until re-marriage.
Martin orders tend to be used if a couple have no dependent children and the non-resident party has no immediate requirement for capital to pay for somewhere new to live. For example, a Martin order could be used if the non-resident party is living in a second property which is worth much less than the matrimonial home. Likewise, a Martin order may be appropriate if the outright transfer of the former matrimonial home to the resident party would produce an unfair capital split.
Cryptocurrency is viewed as an asset in divorce and financial proceedings. At the financial disclosure stage of the divorce process, both parties have a duty to provide full and frank disclosure of their finances. Any cryptocurrencies should be identified at this stage.
Once identified, cryptocurrencies need to be valued. As with any other asset involved in a divorce settlement, such as a house or a business, there must be a figure placed on the cryptocurrency to assist the settlement negotiations.
Unfortunately, cryptocurrencies are inherently difficult to value as their price is highly volatile. As the price of cryptocurrencies can vary wildly within the course of a divorce, although a partner could have built up a substantial crypto fortune when filing for divorce, it may have diminished by the time of settlement and vice versa.
Experts can be instructed to ensure that the valuation used within the divorce settlement negotiations is fair and impartial. This is vital for both sides as an inaccurate valuation will lead to an unfair settlement.
Cryptocurrencies should not be dismissed within settlement negotiations and they are assets of which the Court has the power to transfer ownership in divorce.
Our team have put their decades of experience together to also answer some of the most frequently asked questions they get around family law and relationship matters. Click here to find out more. We have also put together this useful divorce glossary to help explain common phrases, words and legal jargon.