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Divorce FAQ

This article appeared in the December 2010 edition of Chic Lifestyle magazine.
divorce lawyers sheffield

Getting divorced can be one of the most upsetting things a person can go through. Added to that, anyone facing a divorce for the first time will have many questions about the process itself and what is involved. Here, Sandra Russell, partner and specialist family solicitor at Norrie Waite & Slater, answers some of the most commonly asked questions about divorce.

How long do I have to be married before I can get a divorce?

In English law you need to have been married for at least one year before you can apply for a divorce.

What are the grounds for divorce?

The only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. When you petition for a divorce you need to state one of the following five reasons:

A - Adultery
B - Unreasonable behaviour
C - Desertion for a period of at least two years
D - Two years separation - with consent for the divorce
E - Five years separation – consent for divorce not required

Your solicitor will examine your circumstances and help you to choose the most suitable fact relating to your divorce.

Will I have to go to court?

In many cases you do not have to go to court in person. If the divorce is uncontested and you are able to reach agreement through your solicitors on finances and children, then a formal court hearing is unlikely to be necessary. It is possible to conclude the whole process as a paper exercise without ever seeing a Judge.

Court hearings most commonly arise when agreement cannot be reached on things such as child residence, child contact and financial settlements.

How long does a divorce take?

For an uncontested divorce with no complications it usually takes between 4 and 6 months for a divorce to be finalised.

If the divorce is contested or agreement cannot be made on related matters then the process can take up to 12 months or possibly even longer.

Does it make any difference whose fault the divorce is?

In the vast majority of cases it will not have any impact on the outcome of the divorce, financial settlement or arrangements for children. The courts are not in the business of punishing people for things such as adultery.

Only in cases of extreme behaviour such as violence to a spouse or children would it possibly affect the outcome.

How much does a divorce cost?

When we talk about the cost of a divorce it is important to remember that there are up to three different elements involved, depending on your circumstances:

  • Divorce: this means the purely legal aspect of bringing the marriage formally to an end.
  • Finances and property: agreeing things such as who will have the family home, how other assets are distributed and whether maintenance will be payable.
  • Children: agreeing who your children will live with, contact rights for the other partner and financial maintenance.

Divorce solicitors charge fees on an hourly basis so the cost of your divorce will depend on the number and complexity of the issues to be resolved. Some people are entitled to legal aid to cover the cost of a divorce.

An important aspect of the cost of any divorce is how much the parties involved are able to reach agreement. If you and your spouse have substantial disagreements about arrangements for children and finances, and these have to be negotiated through both parties divorce solicitors, then the cost can increase significantly.

A good divorce solicitor will negotiate firmly on your behalf but will always attempt to keep your costs to a reasonable level in the process.

My firm offers a free half hour consultation so that you can meet with a divorce solicitor and they can assess your situation. This will enable them to give you an estimate of the likely cost of your divorce and associated matters.

Who pays the fees for divorce?

In most cases you will both need to employ separate solicitors to advise you and act for you in negotiations and possibly at court, so you will both incur costs.

The person initiating the divorce petition (the ‘petitioner’) will incur additional court fees on top of the fees for their solicitor preparing the case. The person being petitioned against (the ‘respondent’) will incur the costs of their solicitor preparing a reply to the petition.

The petitioner may claim some or all of his/her divorce costs from the respondent. Costs orders are typically made on petitions citing adultery or behaviour.

In cases where an amicable agreement can be reached it is often possible for the costs of the divorce to be shared equally between the parties or for no orders to be made. This is distinct from the costs of resolving the financial/property issues and any issues concerning the children where the general rule is that each party is responsible for payment of their own legal fees.

Can I get legal aid for a divorce?

You may be eligible for legal aid if you are on a low income or are in receipt of certain state benefits.

Legal aid is where the government pays your legal costs if you are unable to afford them. Depending on your circumstances you may have to pay a contribution or pay some or all of the money back if you benefit from a financial settlement, for example in a divorce settlement. This is known as ‘the statutory charge’.

To qualify for legal aid you have to meet certain criteria set out by the government. If you are in receipt of any of the following benefits you will automatically qualify for legal aid:

  • Income support
  • Income based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Guaranteed state pension credit

Even if you are working and have savings you may still be eligible.

For more information, or for a free consultation, contact me on 0114 2766166 or via www.norriewaite.co.uk

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