We act for clients in connection with the breakdown of family relationships, for example in relation to divorce, the dissolution of a civil partnership and the separation of married or cohabiting couples. This information sheet provides details as to our services and provides general guidance as to the legal systems governing the breakdown of relationships in England and Wales.
If you are having problems in your marriage or civil partnership, you should first consider whether these difficulties could be resolved with the help of counselling or mediation. Organisations such as Relate (www.relate.org.uk) could help. If you decide to proceed with a divorce, legal separation or dissolution of your civil partnership, we will be happy to advise and assist you throughout the process.
Briefly, to get a divorce in England and Wales, you need to show that you have been married (by providing the original or a certified copy of the marriage certificate) for more than a year and that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The marriage must have broken down for one of these reasons:
i. your spouse's behaviour is such that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them;
ii. your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live together
iii. your spouse left you at least two years ago without good reason and refuses to return;
iv. you have been separated from your spouse for two years and they agree to the divorce; or
v. you have been separated from your spouse for five years or more.
If you have children, you will also need to give details of their names and dates of birth, where they are living, which schools they attend and what arrangements have been made for their care future care and contact arrangements with the other parent.
Getting a divorce is fairly straightforward if the proceedings are not defended. However, the position is much more complex if your spouse defends the divorce. You will need to settle financial matters relating to maintenance, pensions, and division of the property and any other assets and savings and investments. These are known as 'Financial and Property claims'.
The time it takes to get a divorce will vary according to the complexity of each case and the practice of the particular court. Even the most straightforward divorces could take between four and six months.
We also advise on annulling a marriage. For further details please contact us for advice.
A Civil Partnership is a formal legal relationship between two people of the same sex who are eligible to register as civil partners of each other. It ends only on death, dissolution or annulment.
Civil partnership is often referred to as a 'gay marriage'. Although civil partners are not technically “married”, the legal status of civil partners is more or less the same as married partners. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in England and Wales on 5 December 2005 and it accords to same-sex relationships “effectively all the rights, responsibilities, benefits and advantages of civil marriage, save the name, and thereby to remove the legal, social and economic disadvantages suffered by homosexuals who wish to join stable, long-term relationships”.
The process for dissolution of civil partnership is the same as for divorce (see above). The only exception is adultery which is a specific legal term relating to heterosexual sex and which cannot therefore be used as grounds for dissolving a civil partnership. If your partner is unfaithful the grounds for dissolution would instead be unreasonable behaviour.
If you have not been married for at least a year and you feel your marriage has broken down within that first year you are prevented from divorcing by law. Alternatively, you may have religious, cultural or other reasons for not applying for a divorce. In these circumstances it is possible to obtain a legal separation, called a “Judicial Separation”.
A judicial separation serves to confirm you are legally separated from your spouse and the procedure for obtaining this is the same as for divorce proceedings. However, the significant consequence of a judicial separation is that your marriage will not be dissolved and you will not be free to remarry.
If you do not require a judicial separation you may wish to enter into a Separation Agreement with your spouse. This is a formal, written agreement between a married couple following their decision to separate. It records any agreement they have reached to clarify financial issues and avoid legal proceedings. This area of the law is quite complex and it is in your best interests to obtain specific advice about your particular circumstances.
[Correct as at January 2017]