March 29, 2006 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I want to get a divorce I'm in the UK: Do I need to involve a solicitor? is this something I could do on my own? If it is something I can do myself, how can I go about starting it? My wife is not overly keen on us getting a divorce, though I'm pretty sure she'd NOT put up much of a struggle once the thing got started.

More Background:
We were married in the UK 3.5 years ago & have been separated for around 1.5 years.

My grounds, as far as I can tell, could be desertion: I asked her to leave our home, she did, hence the separation. Though we both know we each committed adultery too.

We have no children, no property and no savings/cash to speak of, so there's nothing to divide 50/50.

As a slight complication she's currently living outside UK but we are on polite speaking terms, I would like the politeness to continue as far as is practical.

Problem I've had is that everytime I try searching online all I seem to get are legal companies offering their services, but not impartial advice.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
NB: I am not a solicitor, but I do work in a solicitor's office in Scotland. I'm pretty sure this advice goes for England, too, but I am not 100% about this.

Anyway --

We have no children, no property and no savings/cash to speak of, so there's nothing to divide 50/50.

In this case, things can be very easy and you won't need a Solicitor. Go to any courthouse and ask for Divorce forms. If you need help filling out the forms, you may want to talk to a solicitor or visit a Citizens Advice Bureau. You may also need to be officially Separated from your wife for a full two years before you can divorce, but the forms will tell you all that too.

When there are no kids and everyone's willing to waive assets, divorce has been made quite easy in the UK, with the express purpose of removing solicitors(' fees) from the equation.
posted by Marquis at 10:57 AM on March 29, 2006

I can not speak about a divorce in UK but in the U.S. forms can be downloaded and signed (and witnessed) for little costs and no solicitors (lawyers) needed. But that assume that there is an agreement between both parties and no hassles over anything. When hassels begin, so too lawyers enter in.

No children and no or little material things involved should make it easy.
posted by Postroad at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2006

IAAL, and was a divorce lawyer (in England) for most of my career in private practice.

There's only one ground for divorce in England - irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. But there are five ways of evidencing that:

- adultery (which the other person has to admit, and which also has to be with someone of the opposite sex - a gay affair isn't classed as adultery)
- unreasonable behaviour (which can cover all kinds of petty things, as long as there's enough of them in a pattern of behaviour, as well as heinous stuff, or gay affairs)
- that you've been separated for at least two years, and you both agree to a divorce
- that you've been deserted for at least two years (so the petitioning party has to be the one who's been deserted, not the other way round)
- that you've been separated for at least five years, and the other person doesn't agree to a divorce.

If you both want a divorce, you'll have to wait another six months, and then go on the two year separation route. Desertion wouldn't be appropriate because there's the implication with desertion that it's against the wishes of the person who's been left, and that's not the case with you.

Or if you want to go ahead straight away, you could petition on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. I drafted thousands of behaviour petitions in my time, and any competent family law solicitor would be able to put one together from what might seem to be pretty trivial incidents. I wouldn't suggest trying to draft a behaviour petition yourself if you're not relying on serious incidents, such as domestic violence (which you're not, from reading your post).

My suggestion would be to wait the six months, and do it by mutual consent on the basis of two years' separation. If there's no children or property to be argued over, the only thing she would need to do is to complete the Acknowledgement of Service (which is in the form of a questionnaire) and return it to the court. All it says are things like "Are you the person named as the Respondent" and "Do you agree to a divorce?".

The paperwork for an uncontested divorce is fairly straightforward and you can download the forms from the Court Service website.

Once you've completed each stage of the process, they send you a blank form for the next stage with fairly easy to understand instructions about how to fill in the next form to move the process on.

Your wife not living in the UK shouldn't be a problem, as long as you have an address where the court can send the papers, and if you're happy she'll sign the form and return it.
posted by essexjan at 11:11 AM on March 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I got divorced in the UK, without a solicitor. As has already been mentioned, go the nearest County Court, ask at the clerks' office for the form, and pick up a leaflet about how to fill it in. Take your time filling it in, and send it off.

Some things to remember:

- When I got divorced ~6 years ago, it cost £150 to submit the application. The cost has probably gone up since then.

- A divorce application is unusual amongst English civil law, in that the applicant (that's you) doesn't have to arrange service of papers (that is, let the other party know) upon the respondent (the other person).

- You have to submit three sets of identical forms to the court, one of which must be an original. The other two can be photocopies.

- The court will then give you a matter-number. That's the reference number that must be used on all firther correspondence regarding the divorce.

- If the respondent is not particularly keen on the idea of divorce, things can get tricky. Basically, they have to acknowledge service of papers. If they refuse to do this, you have to involve a court bailiff. This cost, at the time, another £15, and I also had to provide a photograph of the adultererspouse. If they don't live alone, and/or choose not to answer the door themselves to the bailiff, the service-of-papers-tango can continue for some time. If your spouse is abroad, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how you could compel an acknowledgement of service if they want to put up a fight.

- If a third party is named, as in adultery, they must also be served with papers.

- Those served with papers must (eventually) acknowledge by returning a return-of-service form, in which they are provided a (surprisingly small) box to make their case.

- You can ask for costs to be paid for you. There's a section on the form where you can ask for a specific person (the spouse or an involved third-party) to pay the costs of the case. You have to pay upfront, but after everything is settled you can force the other to reimburse you. Costs only usually cover the money paid to the court (in my case that was £195), but I was also awarded an extra £100 by the judge, because the third party in my case happened to be stupid enough to write something that they thought was clever on their return-of-service.

- The final part of the divorce occurs after the judge has looked at the application, the responses, and decided that a divorce can take place. The court will issue you with a Decree Nisi. You must then wait a minimum of three months, and can then apply for a Decree Absolute. The Absolute is largely a formality, but cost (at the time of my divorce) £30.

- Actually, the final, final part is the oath that you take when submitting the application for the Decree Absolute. I did this in the clerks' office, in front of a long line of people. I had to read an oath, attesting and affirming that everything that I'd put on the forms was true. The reason that there was such a long line of people of people behind me was that, when the clerk (stood behind a counter and a pane bullet-proof glass) held up a card containing the usual 'swear to God' oath that I was supposed to read out loud, I pointed out that I was an atheist. There was then a long and, for me, very embarrassing wait whilst all of the clerks in the office searched for the never-before-used religion-free oath card. The wait was so long that I told the clerk that I'd just do the God thing, but they wouldn't let me, because, "It wouldn't be right."

- Never be afraid to ask the people at the clerks' office about anything that you're not sure of. They'll usually explicitly tell you that they can't offer legal advice. However, they always went out of their way to help me whenever I needed it.

Sorry if that's a bit long-winded. Hope it helps.

Try to stay positive, work your way through it methodically, and remember to keep telling yourself that this too shall pass.
posted by mad judge pickles at 1:17 PM on March 29, 2006

Wow. Great answers, essexjan and mad judge pickles. I'm flagging as "fantastic."

a gay affair isn't classed as adultery

*mind boggles*
posted by languagehat at 1:35 PM on March 29, 2006

Languagehat, in English law adultery has a very specific definition, which is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who aren't married to each other.

In my time, I acted for a number of people who wanted their spouses' gay lovers to be cited in adultery petitions, but were unable to because of the way the law defines adultery.

Instead, I would draft an unreasonable behaviour petition which said that the spouse had had a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.
posted by essexjan at 3:02 PM on March 29, 2006

Oh, a couple more things. You need to file your original marriage certificate (or a certified copy, which you can obtain for about £10 from the register office for the district where you were married) with the divorce papers. You don't get the certificate back.

The total fees for an uncontested divorce are £240. If you are on low income or state benefits you can apply for a fee exemption.
posted by essexjan at 3:04 PM on March 29, 2006

Blimey - on seeing the question I was going to post whatever nonsense I could recall from half remembered law lectures - but Essexjan and MJP have utterly nailed this one! Another Askmefi triumph!
posted by prentiz at 4:35 PM on March 29, 2006

If your spouse is abroad, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how you could compel an acknowledgement of service if they want to put up a fight.

You would do it like this: once you're certain she's had the papers, you call her on the phone, in the presence of a third party, such as a trusted friend (this is important - see below) and say to her "did you get the divorce papers?". If she says "yes, and I ripped them up" or some such, then you can apply for something called 'deemed service'.

What this means is that you swear an Affidavit which is presented to the court saying that you had a conversation with her on date/time when she said blah, and the court is invited to conclude that she's had the divorce papers but doesn't intend to return the acknowledgement of service.

The independent third party should also swear an Affidavit saying "I was with him at the time and I heard her say blah". The relevance of a third party is so that the court isn't relying on your evidence alone - you have a vested interest in telling the court she's had the papers, whereas someone unconnected to the case has, in theory, no axe to grind and the court is more likely to raise no question if you have someone else to back up what you say.

Alternatively, if you have a friend/relative in the place she now lives, you can ask the court to send you a second set of papers, forward them to that person, ask them to hand them to her in person, and then they swear an Affidavit confirming they've personally served the papers on her. You aren't allowed to make personal service, it has to be a third party.
posted by essexjan at 11:08 PM on March 29, 2006

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