5 February, 2019
‘Quickie divorces’ are often spoken about in the media. We hear about points such as ‘mitigating circumstances’, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and ‘irreconcilable differences’.
But what does it all mean? Daniel Sanders explains more about this confusing subject…
Is the general perception of divorce proceedings quite a lengthy one?
Sometimes yes… Clients don’t always appreciate what is involved in the process, and most of the time they have little idea of the legal procedure and requirements. There is often a gap in knowledge at the outset as to the parallel existence of divorce and financial settlement: the latter usually causing the lengthening of the time to conclusion. Most of their knowledge is through their friends’ and family’s experiences of divorce (whose divorces can substantially differ in complexity and time) and of course through the media.
…and sometimes no. Some clients relate seeing a divorce lawyer to that of a meeting with a marriage registrar. It is not, however, simply a case of signing something off which records a divorce – even when the parties are in full agreement about the parting of ways. Most clients recognise that 4-6 months is reasonable (not always the case though!) but then are more surprised at the delays that might arise because of the related financial settlement arrangements that run alongside a divorce.
What are your clients concerned about?
The majority get concerned about how long a divorce take especially if there are separate but linked Court proceedings in relation to financial settlement. The minimum the process can be is really about 4 months – but the procedure is more like 6 months from start to finish provided there is full consensus between divorcing spouses and efficiency. Spouses can lose benefits (e.g. widow’s pension entitlement) on Decree Absolute, so in order to not weaken their position (even if it seems unrealistic that any loss of benefits will actually occur) Decree Absolute is commonly delayed.
What are some of the other common causes of divorce anxiety?
Some clients can get concerned about the complications involved in the financial settlement associated with the divorce (and the knock on effect on the length of time for the process). A quickie financial settlement is riddled with risk and there are often complex and life-changing decisions to be made as part of a settlement so fully informed decisions – which can take time – are often required or at least encouraged. Some clients feel that they can get divorced quickly and then deal with finances later – whilst that is possible, it is not advisable simply because a divorce will not extinguish those financial claims arising between one-time husband and wife in the future.
So, a husband and wife can apply against each other for financial settlement years after their divorce if they don’t do it during the divorce. Clients don’t always realise that and regret not sorting it out at the time in situations where, for example, their financial circumstances have changed (for the better) since divorce, and where those financial improvements (whether income, capital or pension) are still subject to claims from an ex.
The other classic concern is where parties have been separated for some time and one of them wants to remarry. They get frustrated at having to wait for several months before actually moving on with their life.
What causes the majority of the delays?
Most delay is caused by either or a combination of (a) court system backlogs even in the most simple and straightforward quickie-type cases (as uncontested divorce and financial settlement is all paper-based); (b) by one party holding things up for whatever reason; and/or (c) financial settlement disputes/complications.
What do people believe is a ‘quickie divorce’?
Usually when in an amicable split, they think they can get divorced without fuss and certainly sooner than 4-6 months. They don’t appreciate the legal processes that need to be followed.
Steele Raymond is one of a handful of firms nationally participating in an online divorce pilot scheme designed to increase the speed with which divorce cases are processed through the Court. The idea is to make the typical 4-6 month timeframe shorter, perhaps to 4 months or fewer but, as mentioned above, financial settlement complications/delays could prolong this. In theory, however, the cases could be completed sooner. I expect to see this evolution in divorce process’ timeframes in the future.
How do you approach proceedings when taking on divorce clients?
I ensure that a strategy is prepared and that information is gathered at an early stage once the client is ready to commence. This involves informing clients of the options for getting divorced and ensuring that they are fully equipped with the right guidance and advice from which to make decisions.
Are the options for clients wishing to divorce very limited?
Divorce in England and Wales is ‘fault based’ law. This is often cited as unreasonable behaviour (often mistaken for irreconcilable differences) or adultery.
The alternative involves a 2-year separation before you can get divorced – provided that both parties agree. Even in 2-year separation divorces, there can be a delay, however, if parties have just separated and then need to wait the time out (in contrast to cases where I am consulted over 2 years after they have actually separated). Clients can also rely on being separated for at least 5 years without having to rely on the agreement of their spouse.
What can clients expect, and what do they need to bring with them to make the process run smoothly?
The cases that are completed more quickly are when parties are amicable and agree terms of divorce (including acceptance by one party of fault – either admitting adultery or accepting the unreasonable behaviour examples against them). There is a protocol for sending a draft petition (in most cases) to the other person – or their solicitors – for consideration, which is designed to ensure the terms/reasons for the divorce are transparent and agreed before the legal process actually starts. This also helps speed things up so that delays are not encountered later because there is a dispute about the content of a divorce petition. Therefore bringing or collating information before a meeting can make the process run more smoothly.
Further, parties who are well organised, cooperative and proactive in getting their financial settlement terms resolved help to speed up the process. However, there are often complications with parties who appear amicable before taking legal advice – and then realise that there is more to a divorce than just signing something off and/or that they might be entitled to something different to what they were minded to agree to before taking advice.
Any ‘quickie’ top tips for those who may be thinking of divorce proceedings?
Couples must be married for 1 year before starting divorce proceedings.
Be aware of emotional issues. It can take time for some clients to get their head round the fact they are actually divorcing. They should be ready for the fact that their spouse may not be in the right place to be speedy about it even when they are keen to get things going.
Above all, take proper advice about the legal process and ask questions to ensure that you understand all the options and implications of your decision-making. There are often various options at various different junctures in the divorce and financial settlement arena and it is quite easy to get lost within those processes if you are not well informed.