When “I Do” Becomes “I’m Done” : The Damage-Limitation Divorce Guide
My social media newsfeeds have been awash with a flurry of engagement announcements this Christmas: loved-up couples beaming contently at the camera, sparkling diamond rings proudly held aloft. Good luck to them, I say. Heaven knows they’ll need it. Nobody likes a naysaying numpty tarnishing the impending nuptials, but with 42% of marriages ending in the dreaded d-word, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a decent divorce lawyer.
Divorce: a word guaranteed to strike fear into the (broken) hearts of men- and womenfolk up and down the land. Often whispered in hushed tones, it’s a word that’s about as popular as cancer, but unfortunately just as common: 1 in 2 people in the UK will get that dreaded cancer diagnosis in their lifetime; it’s the same sorry state of affairs for marriage. And, like cancer, nobody thinks it will happen to them…until it does.
“Who are you – the voice of doom?” I hear you cry. Hell no! I was once a Smug Married too, you know. Rather than exacerbate the post-Christmas blues, as a recent divorcee myself I’m here to offer a soggy shoulder for soon-to-be-singletons to cry on, swiftly followed by some practical advice for those facing major marital upheaval in 2018. So, if your relationship has hit the buffers since the Boxing Day buffet, dry your eyes and read on…
The first working Monday of the New Year, in this case 8th January 2018, is commonly known as D-Day, or Divorce Day, since this is the day that family lawyers see a 25% uplift in enquiries from stressed-out spouses. This is not usually the result of one seasonal squabble too many, or being freshly outraged by those liberty-taking in-laws; on the contrary, most couples agree to put on a brave face during festivities for the sake of the family, vowing to seek advice in the New Year when relatives have gone home and everyone has settled back into their regular routines. Surreptitious right-swiping and being overheard whispering sweet nothings to Annie in Accounts during the holidays can also sound the death knell for doomed relationships, as can the overwhelming desire for a fresh start which often accompanies a brand new year.
70% of divorce cases in the UK are instigated by women, who cite infidelity, boredom, lack of appreciation and an unequal divvying-up of the household chores as major reasons for resentment. Unlike our grandparents’ generation, when “put up and shut up” was the marriage mantra, nowadays women are as likely as men to be working full-time – and are as such unwilling to bear the brunt of back-breaking housework from 5-9 as well as the 9-5.
But is divorce the answer? A staggering 54% of divorcees admit to having second thoughts about their decision to divorce, and 1 in 5 divorced couples are still together years after deciding to give things another go.
Something to think about before diving head-long into complex and costly divorce proceedings is a Reconciliation Contract. Relatively unheard of here in the UK, these post-nup agreements are commonplace in the US, and are a clear way of agreeing the split of debts and assets should the divorce go ahead, plus the changes required on both sides to avoid such an eventuality. An example of such a contract can be found here. It may be, for example, that the couple agrees to a six-month separation, during which time they must abide by certain rules and make specific changes to their behaviours. In the event that these rules and actions are broken by either or both parties, the divorce proceedings are started, with the split of assets pre-agreed.
Whilst divorce is clearly a big money-spinner for family lawyers, no solicitor worth their salt actually wants to see families split, and has a duty of care to ensure that divorce is a last resort. A reconciliation contract supports this. Avoid the later heartache of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” by giving yourselves the time and breathing space to cool off and attempt to resolve your differences. You never know, you may even rediscover what made you fall in love with one another in the first place. Do fun things; go on dates. Take it one step at a time. The old adage: “the couple that plays together, stays together” may just prove accurate.
The family law organisation Resolution, which boasts a 6500-strong membership of lawyers and other professionals committed to non-confrontational divorce, recently drew up a revised code of practice to mark Good Divorce Week. Amongst other pledges, the code commits members to reducing or managing “any conflict and confrontation; for example, by not using inflammatory language” and to supporting and encouraging “families to put the best interests of any children first.”
Another mission of Resolution, with the support of other organisations, is to lobby Parliament to introduce the ‘no fault divorce.’ Many other countries, including the USA, Russia, China and Australia, already allow for divorce without apportioning blame. Here in the UK, unless the couple have been separated for at least two years, one partner is encouraged to heap blame on the other, citing infidelity or irreconcilable differences for the divorce. This creates an air of hostility and fault-finding which is both unnecessary and inflammatory, and in many cases causes couples to invent grounds for divorce, making a peaceful resolution less likely. The ‘fault-free divorce’ would see couples give notice and if they both feel the same way six months later, the divorce is granted.
So, what if divorce is inevitable – how much will it cost? If you absolutely cannot separate your assets without the assistance of a lawyer, then of course it’s going to cost you – often thousands of pounds, as their average hourly rate is £200. The good news is that if you can settle your divorce amicably it only need cost £550, which is the basic fee. The YouGov website has all the forms and information you require.
If it all feels a bit daunting, an online service such as Quickie Divorce can provide reassurance, assist with the process and provide guidance for completing the forms, from as little as £39. I used a combination of Quickie Divorce and the YouGov website, splitting the costs with my ex-husband, costing less than £300 each in total. Here’s a brief summary of the process:
- Go to YouGov and prepare 3 copies of Divorce Petition Form D8.
- Enter your postcode to find your nearest Regional Divorce Centre.
- Send the forms and provide your details so they can call you to collect the £550 fee by debit/credit card.
- Respondent is sent the petition form and replies using Acknowledgement of Service form within 8 days.
- Apply for a Decree Nisi using the form D84. You will also need to complete the relevant statement form, according to the reason you’ve given for divorce.
- If the judge approves your application, a date is set for the hearing (usually 4 weeks’ notice is given; no need to attend unless there are objections).
- Decree Nisi is granted.
- Wait 6 weeks and 1 day, then apply for Decree Absolute using the form D36.
- Decree Absolute is granted.
The entire (uncontested) process takes around 4-6 months. You are then free to remarry…
…if you dare.
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