Fancy a Quick one?
With all the talk of celebrity divorces, and of those who obtain a Quickie Divorce, one might be forgiven for thinking they are the preserve of the rich and famous.
Over this so-called ‘Summer of Divorce’ we have seen the divorces of a number of celebrities from Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner to Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale and even Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy. But can anyone get a ‘Quickie Divorce’?
The answer is most certainly yes.
Most divorces in England and Wales are conducted under the ‘Special Procedure’. This is a process whereby couples who do not want to contest the divorce proceedings can obtain a divorce without the need to attend court. It is conducted by the preparation and submission of forms which are usually prepared by a solicitor acting for the person starting the divorce (the ‘petitioner’).
Provided the couple are in agreement in relation to the grounds of the divorce and there are no disputes in relation to any children, then this process can be used.
Where do you start?
A petition for divorce may be presented to the court by either party to a marriage on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Often referred to as ‘irreconcilable differences’, the correct terminology is actually the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the marriage.
To establish the the marriage has irretrievably broken down the petitioner must satisfy the court as to one or more of the following 5 facts:
- that the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent, or
- that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent, or
- that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, or
- that the parties of the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition (hereafter in this Act referred to as “two years’ separation”) and the respondent consents to a decree being granted, or
- that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition (hereafter in this Act referred to as “five years’ separation”).
For adultery, only conduct between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery for the purposes of divorce under this ‘fact’.
How quick is quick?
A ‘quickie’ divorce still normally takes between 3 to 4 months to be concluded. It happens in two stages:
Takes approximately 2 months and results in pronouncement of the decree nisi. This is the preliminary decree of divorce and is granted when the court considers the petitioner to have satisfactorily proved the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage by virtue of the facts stated in the petition.
Pronouncement of decree nisi takes place in open court. Neither party is expected to attend the court, and vary rarely do they choose to do so. The District Judge on the day reads out the names of the couple and grants the certificate of decree nisi, a copy of which is then sent to each of the couple.
The second stage is the application for the decree absolute which the petitioner cannot submit until 6 weeks and a day have passed from the date of Decree Nisi. In both stages, the petitioner makes application to the court by completing appropriate forms.
Usually the application for Decree Absolute is not made until the couple has agreed all aspects of their financial arrangements. Once applied for, it generally takes about a week for the Decree Absolute to be pronounced.
It wasn’t me
With the exception of a petition based on two years’ separation, all of the other facts have a fault based element. There was provision set down in Part II of the Family Law Act 1996 for a new ‘no fault’ divorce dating back as long ago as 1996 but it never made it into law and whether for political, religious or other reasons it has yet to be pursued.
This does increasingly seem to fly in the face of what policy makers are trying to achieve with all the recent changes that are happening in the sphere of family law. Not least where since the removal of the availability of public funding in all but the most limited cases, litigants are expected to find their own way through the divorce landscape with little or no legal assistance unless they can afford to pay for it.
In contrast, many other countries have a more pared back approach and use systems akin to a register of births, marriages and deaths – a ‘divorce register’ if you like.
Mediation – on the rocks?
It also seems to fly in the face of the drive towards mediation and the encouragement of parties seeking to sit down and discuss their differences outside of the court environment. The current system requires one or other of them to file a petition, most usually containing many hurtful details of the other party’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
Maybe the recently reported statistics showing the lack of take up for mediation, in The Law Society Gazette are evidence that the system is not working.
The family lawyers organisation Resolution – first for Family Law are also inviting couples and their solicitors to participate in a research study funded by the Nuffield Foundation on this very subject.
On Resolution’s website, they are seeking participants in a two year study into the current system and what could be put in place on a ‘no fault‘ basis. If you want to get involved, contact them via their website here.
As an active Resolution member, Paradigm Family Law’s James Thornton is encouraging his clients to have their say and contribute to what will hopefully be an effective way to change the present system for future couples going through divorce.
We are also concerned to learn of the intention to increase the issue fee for divorce from the current £410 to £550. This is apparently a fee which does not represent the actual costs of administering the divorce process by the court – a process which has become an administrative exercise conducted by court staff rather than judges.
The administration has also been reduced since the courts dealing with divorce are now far fewer, whereby those wanting to start proceedings now can only do so in a handful of ‘divorce centres’.
Surely the process could be made simpler than at present and without the parties needing to find fault with one another. At Paradigm Family Law we are doing our bit. Our fixed fees for divorce and financial cases are designed to take the uncertainty our of the costs of divorce proceedings, but we cannot control the court fees themselves!
If you would like any more information about this or any family law topic, we’d love to hear from you. You can call Paradigm Family Law on 0845 6020422 or email us at [email protected]. Ask us about our fixed fees for divorce and financial matters. You can also follow us on twitter and LinkedIn.