It always amuses me when the newspapers refer to celebrities getting a "Quickie Divorce" as in reality in England and Wales there is no such thing. Following the recent public separation of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong, it was reported that they were able to get a divorce “in just 30 seconds”. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, regardless of your celebrity status, there are some rules which must be followed and the English legal system is one such example.
The reality is that in order to get divorced in England and Wales, it must be proven that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and one of the following facts can be shown;
- Unreasonable behaviour
- 2 years desertion
- 2 years separation with consent
- 5 years separation.
All divorces follow the same general process regardless of the length of the marriage, who you may be or the fact upon which the divorce is sought. The person that starts the divorce is called the “Applicant” and the other spouse is the “Respondent”.
Once the divorce application has been issued, the Court will send the Respondent a copy of the divorce papers together with an Acknowledgement of Service form. As long as the Respondent returns the Acknowledgement of Service form indicating an intention not to defend the divorce, the proceedings can proceed on an uncontested basis.
If the proceedings are uncontested it will usually take between 4 – 5 months to finalise the divorce. Once the Acknowledgement of Service has been completed by the Respondent and returned to the Court, the Applicant can then apply for the Decree Nisi. It is at this stage that the Judge will consider the papers and decide whether the Applicant is entitled to a divorce. If the Judge is satisfied that the Applicant is entitled to a divorce, a date will be set for the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi in open Court. The press often refer to this very short hearing, sometimes lasting no more than a few seconds, as being the divorce; it is not. Indeed, this was exactly the case with Ant and Lisa’s divorce where, if the divorce or costs are not in dispute, it is very rare for any party to attend this Hearing and therefore it is not controversial that neither party were in attendance and the Hearing was simply a mention Hearing.
Once the Court has pronounced the Decree Nisi there is then a mandatory “cooling off” period of six weeks before the Applicant can apply for the final stage of the divorce, the Decree Absolute. This is a fixed time period, which applies to all applicants regardless of their celebrity status.
The Courts can only allow this six week period to be reduced in exceptional circumstances, such as where one party to the marriage is dying and wishes to be divorced before their death, where one party is expecting a child with a new partner and wishes to re-marry before the child is born or if they are travelling abroad and their marital status would prohibit this. Therefore, unless any of these exceptional circumstances exist, the reality for most celebrities is that they will just to have to wait their turn like the rest of us. It is only when the Decree Absolute is obtained that the marriage will be formally dissolved, and a divorce granted.
But all is not lost; there are certainly things that you and your spouse can do if you want to avoid unnecessarily delays in the divorce process. It is good practice to show your spouse a copy of the divorce application before it is issued and resolve any issues such as claims for costs or the statement of case before it is lodged with the Court. This will hopefully mean that the divorce process can proceed without too many hurdles. After the Respondent has completed and returned the Acknowledgement of Service, the onus is on the Applicant to complete the rest of the paperwork in a timely manner.
It is my strong advice to try and reach a financial settlement before the divorce is finalised. Many divorcing couples may decide to delay applying for the Decree Absolute before the financial settlement has been concluded. Although I appreciate that once a decision has been taken to divorce, most people would rather that it was over sooner rather than later, there are legal implications in obtaining a Decree Absolute, so it is important to seek legal advice. It is helpful to try and broach the subject of finances early with your spouse or attend mediation so that any negotiation or discussion about the finances can commence promptly.
If you would like any more information about this article or are considering a divorce, please contact Phoebe Hill who will be able to assist.
This paper is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Please speak to a member of our team.