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Divorce and separation – the legal process

The legal processes and rights in divorce or separation (ending a non-married relationship) or ending a civil partnership are quite different. We explain the basic process for each.

Separation rights: ending a non-married relationship

There is no legal process to the ending of a relationship in which you were not married. However, you may still use the courts to help you make arrangements if you are unable to reach agreement by any other method. You can ask the courts to deal with:

  • care and contact for your child
  • the division of any joint assets
  • Separation: your action plan

Ending your marriage

To end your marriage you must ask a court to grant you a divorce on the grounds that:

  • your wife has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with her
  • your wife’s behaviour has been so bad that you can no longer bear to live with her
  • your wife deserted you at least two years ago
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least two years and she agrees to a divorce
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least five years

Fathers and children: the law

The process for divorce is as follows:

1. Petition

The divorce is initiated by you or your wife lodging a petition with the court. This person is known as the petitioner. The petition is a document that sets out details of the marriage and the grounds for divorce.

Because you have dependent children, you will also need to complete a document called a Statement of Arrangements for. This sets out the details such as where the children will live and arrangements for contact.

Child contact

2. Acknowledgment of service

The petition and statement of arrangements for children are sent to the court. The court stamps the petition and a copy is sent to the other spouse. They are called the respondent. They complete a form acknowledging receipt called an acknowledgment of service which states whether the divorce or the arrangements for the children will be contested.

If the respondent chooses not to contest the divorce, the petitioner must swear on oath or affirm that the contents of the petition are true.

The family courts: residence and contact orders

3. Decree nisi

If a district judge is satisfied that everything is in order, they will order that the matter can be listed for the pronouncement of the divorce decree – initially, the decree nisi.

4. Decree absolute

Six weeks and one day after the decree nisi is granted the petitioner can apply for the decree to be made absolute. This ends the marriage.

Divorce: your action plan

Ending a civil partnership

In order to legally end a civil partnership you must ask the court to grant:

a dissolution order – your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year
a separation order – your civil partnership does not need to have lasted for a year
an annulment – where there are questions around the legality of the partnership
If you have children, you will need to agree arrangements for care and contact. You may also ask the law to rule on issues around your finances and housing.

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