Following the recent Supreme Court case of Tini Owens who was not allowed to progress with her divorce petition, the divorce laws of England and Wales have been in the spotlight. Here I will explain the basics and answer some of the questions that I have been asked recently. Our guide to divorce
How long do I need to have been married to obtain a divorce?
You need to have been married for over one year before you can file a divorce petition at court to start a divorce.
What are the grounds for divorce?
There is one ground for divorce in England and Wales and that is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. In order to proceed, the divorce needs to be based on one of five facts namely
Two years separation with consent
Five years separation
What if I don’t want to wait two years?
If the other party has committed adultery or behaved unreasonably towards you, then you don’t need to wait and can start a divorce immediately.
What if I don’t want to raise the other party’s behaviour and they have not committed adultery?
Then you would need to wait for two years to start a divorce if they consented to that, or five years if they did not consent. After five years, one person can divorce another without any real obstacles.
What if I have committed adultery, can I start a divorce using that fact?
No, you cannot start a divorce on the basis of your own adultery, it has to be based on the other person’s adultery.
How long does a divorce take?
As a guide, it takes about six months but in some areas there are reports of long delays with paperwork making it far longer. Lots of people deal with the financial matters at the same time as the divorce and remain married while they do so. Therefore it is actually the finances which can make the process take longer.
What is a no-fault divorce?
There is a campaign to bring in no fault divorces which would allow people to file for divorce without one party needing to take the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. It would remove the need to raise examples of behaviour or wait for two years. It would be enough for the couple to say that they no longer wish to be married.
I heard that there was a recent case where a divorce was refused. Could that happen to me?
The circumstances in Tini Owens’ case were unusual as one party did not wish for there to be a divorce and actually contested not only the grounds, but whether there should be a divorce at all. A judge must be persuaded that the marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and if they aren’t convinced then they can refuse the divorce. This could be if the examples of behaviour are not sufficient, for example saying the parties have drifted apart is not the same as one party having behaved unreasonably. In the vast majority of cases, both parties agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and even if they deny the examples of behaviour, the divorce can proceed, and the court does not take issue with that.
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