It is obviously very stressful to receive a divorce petition and so the first thing I would say is that you should take legal advice so that you can be guided through the process by experts, as if deadlines are missed, or the wrong boxes ticked, the court will not give any leeway just because a person does not have a solicitor.
As well as the divorce petition you will have received a Notice of Proceedings and an Acknowledgement of Service form. The Notice of Proceedings tells you what to do next and the Acknowledgement of Service form needs to be completed, signed and sent to court by the deadline given.
This deadline is 7 days from the date it was ‘served’. There are set rules on service as this is calculated from the date the court posts the papers out.
It is best not to just ignore the papers, as if you don’t return the acknowledgement of service then it is likely that you will be personally served by the court bailiff i.e. the papers will be handed to you. This carries a cost which will usually be claimed back from you. There really is no need to attempt to avoid service and the best option is to deal with the papers when they first arrive before one of the other methods of service is used.
If you disagree with the divorce you can choose to defend it. This is relatively rare, as it is also possible to confirm in the Acknowledgement of Service form that you neither accept nor admit the allegations in the petition, and the divorce can proceed.
If, however, you tick the box to say you are defending the divorce, then you must file an ‘Answer’ within 21 days of the date that the Acknowledgement of Service form was required to be returned, and pay a fee of £245. If you wish to start your own petition then this must also be filed by that deadline together with the court fee of £550.
In most cases it is a waste of time and money to unnecessarily defend a divorce, as the allegations of behaviour are so unlikely to have any impact at all on the division of the assets or arrangements for the children.
It is usual for the recipient of the petition to pay the other party’s legal costs. This does not include the cost of dealing with financial or children matters which are separate. It is therefore a good idea to try and agree the divorce costs if you can.
It is possible to deal with the divorce as amicably and cost effectively as possible while still ensuring that your interests are properly protected, and this is why we recommend that you seek immediate expert advice from a family law specialist if divorce papers are received.