The procedure on divorce is both straightforward and frustratingly slow. It is usually delayed by the actual timetables within the divorce proceedings (43 days between decree nisi and decree absolute) and the delay within the Court system itself. It is unusual for there to be a significant contribution toward the delay by solicitors themselves. The time period from issue of proceedings until decree absolute is usually around 4½ to 5 months unless applying for decree absolute needs to be delayed (see below for the reasons for this).Please read the sheet on the grounds for divorce.

    • Legally, fault based divorce (divorce on the basis of the other spouse’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour) is anachronistically deemed to be like any other civil proceedings. If a spouse proves adultery or unreasonable behaviour he or she is entitled to the costs of the divorce simpliciter (the divorce pure and simple). This usually amounts to around £1,200-£1,400 all in for a provincial firm or up to £3,000 for a prestigious London firm. It is straightforward and the differential is purely due to the hourly charging rate (£175 per hour to £225 per hour for a provincial solicitor and up to £450 per hour for a London solicitor). Often the ‘fault based’ grounds are matters of convenience and the costs are shared equally between the divorcing spouses. If this can be achieved, all other aspects can be better dealt with.
    • Divorce proceedings are commenced.
    • They are sent to the Court and then served on the other spouse.
    • The other spouse returns a document called the Acknowledgement of Service. This deals with the question of whether he (or she) accepts that he has received the proceedings; whether there is anything within the documentation with which he objects; and whether he agrees to pay the requested order for costs. [I use “he” advisedly since 70% of divorces are commenced by women and therefore 70% of Respondents are men]. There may be technical points at this stage and it is highly advisable that both spouses at this stage will have taken legal advice.
    • If the other spouse does not return the acknowledgement of service then there are a number of rather complicated possibilities and procedures which may need to be involved. These, if they were necessary, may add significantly to the costs of the divorce as well as delaying the progress of the divorce itself.
    • The Court processes the acknowledgement of service, seals it and then sends a copy of it to the Petitioner or more likely the solicitor for the Petitioner.
    • Once a copy of the sealed acknowledgement of service is received by the solicitor for the Petitioner, the Petitioner is in a position to advance matters by asking the Court to progress the divorce, supported by a sworn statement confirming the contents of the petition and identifying the other spouse’s signature on the acknowledgment of service.
    • One then lodges the documents with the Court and if it is satisfied it will set a date for the granting of the intermediate decree of divorce called the decree nisi.
    • The most common reason for the Court to refuse to progress the divorce is that the particulars of unreasonable behaviour are insufficiently strong. This very much depends upon the individual idiosyncracies of the judge who actually reviews the papers and can very much vary from judge to judge. It is an example of how, to ensure the independence of the judiciary, individual judges are permitted to take widely differing views on the same facts. This is particularly disturbing when trying to negotiate financial matters, since the final decision is so very much determined by the vagaries of the particular district judge hearing the case. A decision can only be reasonably appealed if no judge could reasonably have reached the decision of that particular judge. Since the range of discretion is wide, a decision can only be reversed on appeal if it is plainly perverse. Please see the sheet on negotiations within financial proceedings.
    • Once the Court is satisfied that the criteria have been met it sets a date for the granting of the intermediate decree of divorce, called the decree nisi.
    • It is only after the decree nisi that the Court can make the final financial order within the divorce proceedings.
  • 43 days after the decree nisi the Petitioner can apply to have it made absolute, which actually dissolves the marriage. Other aspects of the proceedings may by this time have taken precedence and sometimes applying for decree absolute is overlooked. More commonly there are reasons for not applying for decree absolute. Sometimes the petitioning spouse perceives some tactical advantage in not applying immediately. Most commonly however financial issues have not been resolved and there are technical reasons for not applying, particularly where pensions or capital gains tax may be involved.If there are children involved then a further document called the Statement of Arrangements for the Children needs to be lodged with the Court when filing the divorce petition. This document supplies information to the Court on the basis of which, on grant of decree nisi, the Court will declare itself satisfied with the arrangements made for looking after the children.