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The Differences Between Divorce in the U.K. and U.S.

By: Summer Masterson-Goethals, Masterson Law

Those familiar with the differences in British and American culture are familiar with the phrase “two countries separated by a common language.” This applicable to a number of cultural differences, including the customs regarding marriage and divorce.

Wedding Traditions

Wedding traditions are markedly different in the United Kingdom. Wearing a hat isn’t restricted to the women at a royal wedding. It’s a tradition that occurs across class lines, and all female guests are expected to wear one until the mother of the bride removes hers. Additionally, not everyone invited to the reception is as also invited to the ceremony itself. Weddings are often held in country churches, which have interiors too small to accommodate large crowds.

The differences in divorce can also be subtle.

For example, there is no such thing as the “quickie” divorce sometimes advertised in the U.S. Other aspects are also similarly complicated: for example, there is no formula for determining the division of assets.

On the other hand, couples who may have had difficulty getting divorced in other countries may find it easier to do so in the U.K.

Divorce in England & Wales

When filing for divorce in England and Wales, a copy of the marriage certificate is required to begin the process. Divorce papers are served notifying the spouse of the divorce proceedings. He or she responds to the court with their intention to accept or contest the divorce.

Then, the petitioning party must apply for a Decree Nisi, which is the first step toward the final decree of divorce, the decree absolute. At decree nisi (the ‘conditional divorce’) stage, a judge examines all documents to see if they are in order.

Pronouncement of the Decree Nisi occurs about three months after the proceedings started. The petitioner can apply for an Absolute Divorce no sooner than six weeks and a day after their Decree Nisi is granted.

Divorce in the United States

There are far fewer steps in divorce procedures in the United States, but petitions may take several months to complete. This allows for possible reconciliation. Grounds for divorce vary and are governed by the state where the petition is filed. Community property or equitable distribution usually determines how assets are divided, and terms are determined by the court. Prenuptial agreements sometimes play a part in the terms.

Getting a divorce in the U.K. isn’t as easy as it may sound. If a spouse contests it, the court may not approve the divorce immediately. However, provisions allow the granting of a divorce if the couple has lived separately for five years. In 2016, more than 99-percent of divorces in England and Wales were uncontested. Only a handful went to a final hearing.

No Fault Divorce

In the U.S., all states recognize no-fault divorce, which is where both spouses agree that that marriage can’t be repaired. Some states require that spouses live apart for a specific length of time before a petition is filed. Contested divorces are not as common and usually require grounds, such as adultery, abandonment, prison confinement, inability to have sexual intercourse, or mental cruelty.

Adultery is grounds for divorce in the U.K., but only if it was committed with a member of the opposite sex. Same-sex relationships outside the marriage are not, by themselves, grounds for divorce. Plus, adultery doesn’t necessarily mean that one spouse will financially benefit in the final settlement. In the U.S., however, 21 states have laws prohibiting adultery. This often results in the petitioner receiving a better settlement when they can prove adultery occurred.

Dual Citizenship

Although there are many similarities between divorce in the U.K. and the U.S., it is evident that there are also key differences. For someone with dual-citizenship, it is wise to research the laws in both regions or consult an attorney who is familiar with both sets of laws and your individual situation. This way, the divorce can be sought in the country that is likely to provide the easiest process and the best outcome.

About The Author

Summer Masterson-Goethals is an experienced divorce attorney serving families, businesses, and individuals in Springfield, Missouri. Masterson Law provides high-quality legal representation in Southwest Missouri at a reasonable price. Masterson Law is a general practice in consumer protection, family law, criminal defense, mediation, GAL, real estate, business, and civil litigation. As a firm, Masterson Law is committed to finding a litigation plan that works within your budget.



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