Whether you are using a solicitor or trying to manage the divorce process yourself, it helps to know what's involved in the divorce process. As well as ending the marriage, you'll want to sort out financial issues and any childcare arrangements. And you need to understand what you can agree between yourselves and when you need to involve the divorce court.
Understanding the divorce process
When a couple divorce, three different issues may need to be resolved:
- the divorce itself - ie bringing the marriage to an end;
- agreeing a financial settlement;
- sorting out childcare arrangements, including where children will live and any child maintenance payments
These three different aspects of divorce do not necessarily have to be dealt with at the same time. For example, you can end the marriage before final agreement has been reached on a financial settlement and without having completely agreed everything to do with the children.
While you may think of all three issues as part of the divorce process, you should be aware of the potential for confusion. When lawyers talk about 'divorce' or 'divorce proceedings', they may only mean bringing the marriage to an end, not financial and childcare issues as well.
The divorce court
All court proceedings relating to divorce, including financial or childcare issues, are dealt with by the Family Court.
The Family Court has a number of regional divorce centres around the country. Divorce centres can deal with routine aspects of divorce - for example, the divorce process itself when this is not contested.
Contested applications and cases where a hearing is required can be dealt with at more local Family Courts.
If you are dealing with your divorce yourself, rather than using a solicitor, you can find your local Family Court online.
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The role of the Family Court
You can reduce the costs, time and confrontation involved in getting divorced by agreeing as much as possible between yourselves. Where possible you should aim to minimise the time spent arguing through lawyers or in the divorce court.
In terms of the divorce itself, the court has to be involved. Starting with the divorce petition, the process involves several stages of divorce paperwork to bring the marriage to an end. Provided that you have agreed the details between yourselves, the divorce process itself is fairly straightforward and should take about six to eight months. You would not normally need to go to the court in person.
If you can agree a financial settlement between yourselves, you can ask the Family Court to issue a consent order - making what you have agreed legally binding. This is usually a better approach than arguing it out in court and asking the judge to decide.
Similarly, if possible you should agree childcare arrangements yourselves.
The Family Court itself encourages divorcing couples to try to resolve things between themselves. Before you can ask the court to decide, you normally have to attend a mediation information session to see whether mediation could help you reach agreement.
Managing the divorce process
If you are getting divorced, one of the first things you will need to decide is whether you need a divorce lawyer.
In principle, you can deal with the divorce yourselves - filing the appropriate divorce forms, and agreeing any financial settlement and childcare arrangements between yourselves.
This is more likely to be a good option if you do not have any children, aren't planning to make any financial claims against each other, and remain on good enough terms to discuss things in a reasonable way. Even then, you may want to take legal advice to check that whatever agreement you reach is fair to you.
A DIY approach is less likely to be a good idea if there are children, financial issues to be resolved, or a breakdown in communications between the two of you. In any of these situations it makes sense to take legal advice in the first place, so both of you can check what your legal rights are.
The wrong approach - for example, relying on an informal financial agreement, or finalising the divorce before sorting out how a pension will be shared - can have serious consequences.