The decision to divorce is rarely taken on the spur of the moment. In our experience one or both spouses will, over time, have reached a position where they believe ending the marriage is the only remaining option.

Whether you have concluded on  your own that it is time for you to divorce and you have been able to process the implications of divorce or whether your spouse’s decision to divorce has caught you by surprise, there are several practical steps to take both in the immediate and short term.

The Myth Of The ‘Quickie’ Divorce

The no-fault system of divorce in England and Wales means that there is nothing to be served in making allegations of adultery or bad behaviour on the part of your spouse. And while the process of obtaining a divorce is relatively straightforward and largely administrative, divorce still takes time.

In England and Wales the minimum time a divorce will take is six months. Couples must wait at least 20 weeks between starting the process and getting a conditional order of divorce. There is then a period of six weeks before an application can be made for a final order of divorce.

It is also important to note that during this period you will also have to deal with all the issues relating to arrangements for your children and try to reach a financial settlement with your spouse.

Ten Things To Do When You Decide To Divorce

  1. If you have concerns about your safety or the safety of your children you should immediately contact a domestic abuse organisation such as the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support and advice. Domestic abuse can be psychological, economic or physical. It is a crime.
  2. Living arrangements should be clarified and settled so that there is stability for you and you children during the divorce process. If a partner refuses to leave the home in circumstances where this is appropriate, it may be necessary to get a court order. You should contact a solicitor for advice.
  3. Contact the Land Registry to ensure your property rights are recorded. Leaving the matrimonial home until a final decision about property and finances is made won’t affect your property rights. However, if the property is registered in the sole name of your spouse it is advisable to register your interest at the Registry.
  4. Check what financial support you are entitled to, and whether any benefits you receive are affected by your separation. You may be eligible for increased assistance because your status as part of a couple has changed. Conversely if you are in receipt of benefits as a couple you must notify the paying agency in case payments need to be altered.
  5. Joint property. You should urgently take steps to protect any bank accounts or property that are held jointly so that overdrafts or debts are not incurred without permission. Ensure that any existing instructions to your bank are changed so that withdrawals over a certain amount for example, can only be made with approval of both you and your spouse. In relation to other joint property, you can obtain court orders to prevent a spouse disposing of it unilaterally (although these orders will usually only be available after you have begun the divorce process).
  6. Children – In the immediate aftermath of the decision to separate you should think carefully about how to approach telling the children. You and your spouse should also start to think about what the long-term arrangements for your children will look like. Courts consider a child’s welfare above all else when deciding where they will live, what time they will spend with the non-resident parent and other issues such as where they will go to school. Courts strongly encourage you to reach these arrangements between yourselves. Where one parent has moved out of the home it is crucial to consider where contact with that parent will take place. Bear in mind that any temporary accommodation he or she has may not have a suitable number of bedrooms and other accommodation.
  7. Agree Child Maintenance. Ideally you should reach an agreement about how much child maintenance will be paid and when. If you can’t agree on this contact the Child Maintenance Service. It will assess the rate of payment and arrange collection of the child maintenance due.
  8. Confirm financial liabilities. You should check what debts are in your name and in joint names as you will be liable for these, and they will be brought into the reckoning when dividing assets.
  9. Change your will. You should make a will or alter an existing one. Until your divorce is finalised, your spouse may be entitled to inherit a significant portion of your estate.
  10. Notify pension providers and other financial institutions where you have investments. You may wish to change the way your investments are held, for example by removing your spouse as nominated beneficiary where appropriate.


The steps we have outlined all focus on protecting your position and safeguarding your children. This is important because the process of getting your divorce can take many months – even where you and your spouse are largely in agreement about child arrangements and finances and are able to reach agreement through mediation or other form of dispute resolution.

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