Divorce can be a painful and protracted experience. Preparing for it, and exploring all the available options, however, can go a long way towards reducing the stress.
Marriage guidance counsellors and organisations such as Relate can help couples decide whether their marriage can be saved, and advise how to proceed with their divorce in the least acrimonious way.
Terms of the separation
Experts advise divorcing couples to discuss as amicably as possible the terms of their separation. Doing this first will help both parties save money in legal fees. There is no standard 50:50 division of property and assets in English divorce law. Consulting a solicitor at an early stage can help couples resolve problems more quickly. Before doing this, both parties should set down on paper what they want and what their sticking points are.
The couple should consider the marital home, any financial entanglements or investments, pensions and children. If this is difficult, then the couple may want to consider mediation. Mediators are trained advisors who help couples reach agreement. They provide a safe, neutral and confidential environment in which to discuss matters that may be highly sensitive or bitterly disputed. They may be useful where, for example, one of the spouses feels manipulated or short-changed by the other.
Couples may also want to consider collaborative law, which is a non-confrontational approach to divorce that aims to minimise the emotional and financial cost for both parties.
Divorce can be a very distressing time for children. Divorce experts usually advise couples to agree between themselves about arrangements for the children before telling them so that they present a secure, united front. They should then sit their children down and take time to calmly explain that they are separating, and what will happen.
As far as financial arrangements are concerned, the Child Support Agency follows the guide that parents should pay 15 per cent of their net income to the parent with whom the child is living. This rises to 20 per cent where there are two children, and 25 per cent where there are three. Different circumstances apply where one or both of the parents are on a low income or receiving benefits. However, it is up to parents to agree this between themselves.
Where the spouse being divorced does not defend it, the whole procedure is usually completed within about six months.
The proceedings are launched by sending to the court a petition for divorce. The spouse who sends the petition is known as the petitioner, and the spouse who is being divorced is known as the respondent.
The petition includes your reason for asking for a divorce, set out in writing. The petitioner must also send their marriage certificate and the court fee. If there are children, the petitioner must also send in the names, addresses and dates of birth of the children, and details of which schools they attend and what arrangements have been made for their care.
A copy of the petition is then sent to the spouse who is being divorced. That spouse then completes a statement, known as an acknowledgment of service, that they agree with the divorce. He or she confirms the details, and the court, if satisfied that the parties are entitled to a divorce, grants a decree nisi. This is a legal statement showing the ground for divorce is proven. After six weeks and one day, the decree nisi can be converted into a decree absolute, and the marriage is ended.
The couple must also decide on how property should be divided including the family home, pensions, savings and investments, as well as any maintenance that might be required. This can be dealt with during or after the divorce proceedings. In some circumstances, the divorce can be stalled until financial and childcare arrangements are complete.
Where the divorcing spouse defends the divorce, the procedure is more complicated. This is dealt with in a separate article (see Defences to divorce).