I’m getting divorced – now what?
Divorce lawyer Adam Maguire looks at what divorcing couples should take into account at the outset.
Whether you have already appointed a solicitor or not, the prospect of divorce can be extremely daunting. The introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022 might help to take some of the heat out of the early stages of the process, but what do you need to be thinking about?
The divorce process
If the decision to separate has been made jointly, you will need to decide which of you will make the application for a divorce. This will have little impact on any related financial issues or arrangements for children. It is also now possible to make a joint application although whether this is suitable will depend upon your individual circumstances.
If an application has already been made, whether by you or your former partner, the respondent to the proceedings will need to respond to enable the process to move forward. There are now only very limited grounds on which to contest the process.
It is best to ensure advice is obtained at an early stage as, even though the process itself is relatively straightforward, there are some pitfalls including the possible inadvertent future restriction on certain financial claims, in some circumstances, if the paperwork is not completed properly and dealing with any contributions from the other party towards the costs of the divorce.
Consideration will need to be given to the financial aspects of your separation. One household will likely need to become two. It may be possible for you to agree amicably how this will work, either directly with each other, with the support of a solicitor or through an alternative process such as mediation.
Even if you choose to mediate or negotiate directly with each other without the support of a solicitor, no agreement you reach will be binding on either of you unless this is drafted in the form of a court order (which, once prepared, can be submitted online without the need for either party to attend at court). This document is key and minimises the risk of one party coming back and asking for more in the future.
In the unfortunate event you cannot agree or there are other issues such as, for example, one party hiding assets, it may be that an application to the Family Court is required. While this should be viewed as a last resort, the court can order the parties to produce financial disclosure and can ultimately make a final order setting out what should happen to your finances.
As parents, you will be expected to make decisions together that are in the best interests of your children. Both parties need to take account of the impact that divorce can have on children of any age and do their best to minimise their exposure to any disputes between their parents.
If, and generally only if, parents cannot agree what is best for their child, an application may be made to the court but a court will be generally critical of a party who makes an application to deal with what it would consider trivial issues capable of being resolved by the parties using common sense.
We would encourage parents to communicate with each other in the first instance if it is possible to do so but we are able to help in the event that communication breaks down or is impacted by other factors such as domestic violence.
Personal safety and protections
Will any steps need to be taken to ensure you are protected financially and otherwise until the issues above have been resolved? If there are properties not in your name, action may be required to prevent the owning party from disposing of assets.
If there are concerns as to physical safety, the Family Court has tools at its disposal to seek to control aggressive and hostile behaviour, and it can regulate who lives in the family home, regardless of whose name it is in. The police should be the first port of call if you are concerned for your safety or that of your children but, if they are not able to assist or assert it is a civil matter, a family solicitor can help.
It is also sensible to ensure your post is redirected as appropriate and any passwords and security questions are updated, particularly on shared devices if you remain in the same property to protect any private communications with your solicitor and others. A former partner will often know the answer to security questions even if a password has been reset.
Adam Maguire is a divorce and family partner with Clarke Willmott, specialising in advising on the complex financial issues arising out of divorce. To get in touch with him, please request a consultation.