Brookman provide answers to some of the frequently asked questions regarding divorce in England and Wales. Published in Independent Practitioner.
Q1: Is there such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’
It is possible for the divorce process to take between four-and-a-half and six months if there are no assets to split. However, it is the process of seeking financial orders that can extend a divorce’s timescale – sometimes to a year or possibly a lot longer for complex cases. What the media may call a ‘quickie divorce’ often refers to a couple who have quickly come to an agreement on their finances, but this will still take several months.
Q2: Do people in ‘common law marriages’ have similar rights to married couples.
No. This is a common misconception. Whilst the law in England and Wales provides significant financial protection for married couples, co-habiting couples do not benefit from the same security. Even an unmarried couple who have been together for a long period will not be viewed the same as a married couple in the eyes of the law. There are only a small number of laws protecting co-habiting couples, for instance Trust Law for long-term cohabiting couples who have expended money together.
Q3: Do wives get a better deal?
Not necessarily. In England and Wales, the courts like to start with the presumption of equality, then take into account other factors such as income needs and who cares for the children on a day-to-day basis. The courts are certainly prone to ensuring that the main carer for the children has somewhere to live, though this could be the husband or the wife depending on who holds this responsibility in the marriage.
Q4: Can I manage my own divorce?
Yes, you can download a free online pack from the HMCS website – it is certainly cheaper than paying an internet company for the same thing. However, this approach would not be recommended. It is worthwhile remembering that the expertise of your divorce solicitor will have an impact on the outcome of your divorce. In particular, if the other party is not likely to co-operate or there are any complexities to your situation, an experienced solicitor is a must.
Q5: Can I just resolve my problems through mediation, without a lawyer?
Taking part in mediation without legal advice could be a risky strategy. Statistics suggest that fewer than half mediations are successful and the majority of those that are, include a solicitor in the process. However, mediation could be an option in the right circumstances and your solicitor would be able to advise you on this.
Q6: Won’t having a solicitor involved in my divorce turn it into a fight?
No, we settle far more matters than we fight. Only a small percentage of our cases result in contested hearings and the court process in England and Wales is catered towards allowing early settlements.
Q7: What if I don’t know where my spouse is or they refuse to sign the paperwork?
Assuming that the marriage is valid, it is possible to get divorced whether or not the spouse consents. Often, it is possible to track down the missing spouse but if they cannot be found or they are unwilling to sign the papers, then it is still possible for the divorce petition to proceed. Contrary to the impression given in some films, the divorce can still proceed even without the spouse’s cooperation or signature.