What are the grounds for divorce?

Within Northern Ireland, you need to have been married for at least two years before you can petition for a divorce. Your marriage must have broken down irretrievably, and your petition must be made on one of the following five grounds.

  1. This ground can be used when your spouse has committed adultery during the time of your marriage. You must be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery. If you continue to live with your spouse for more than six months after they have committed adultery, then you cannot use this as a ground for divorce.
  2. Unreasonable behaviour. You must be able to show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you can no longer be reasonably expected to live with them. For example, if they have been verbally or physically abusive towards you or if they have alcohol or drug addictions which have made them difficult to live with.
  3. If your spouse has left you for at least two years without your consent and without cause and it is clear your spouse has no intention of returning, you may petition for divorce on the ground of desertion.
  4. Two years separation with consent. You can be granted a divorce if you and your spouse have lived separately for two years, provided that your spouse consents to the divorce. You can still live in the same property as your spouse for up to six months, but you must live completely separate lives for example, cooking separately and not spending any time together.
  5. Five years separation. If you and your spouse have lived separately for five years or more, you can ask the Court for a divorce. You do not need your spouse’s consent for this ground.

What should I bring to my first appointment?

– Proof of income (if applying for legal aid)

– Proof of ID and your address.

– Your Marriage Certificate

– Children’s Birth Certificates for all children under 18

– Deed poll if you have changed your surname.

Who are the parties in a divorce?

There are normally two parties in a divorce.

  1. The Petitioner – this is the person issuing the divorce.
  2. The Respondent – this is the other party to the marriage.

There can be a third party to divorce proceedings called the Co- Respondent.

If a divorce is proceeding on the grounds of adultery you will need to name the person with whom your spouse is having an affair. They are called the Co -Respondent. They will also be served with the same divorce papers as the Respondent and they will need to sign and return these papers to the Court.

Which level of Court should I issue in?

Usually, the non-fault based divorces are heard in the County Court – this includes the grounds of two years separation and consent and a divorce on the grounds of five years separation.

The more contentious and complicated divorces are heard in the High Court – for example divorces on the grounds of adultery and unreasonable behaviour.

The amount and value of assets in a marriage can also determine where the divorce will be heard.

What is the process from the start to the divorce Hearing?

The divorce process can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Taking initial instructions.
  2. Drafting a Divorce Petition and accompanying forms.
  3. Divorce Papers are sent to the Court to be stamped.
  4. Divorce Papers are returned from the court and then sent to the Respondent.
  5. Divorce Papers are completed by the Respondent and returned to the Matrimonial office in the High Court
  6. A Certificate of Readiness is then lodged with the Court so that the matter can be set down for hearing.
  7. A Decree Nisi hearing takes place. The Respondent does not need to attend this hearing unless they are contesting the divorce.
  8. The Petitioner attends the Decree Nisi hearing with Counsel and/or their Solicitor. They take the Oath and confirm the details of the Petition. Then the Decree Nisi is granted.

What is a Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute?

A Decree Nisi is a provisional decree of divorce that the Court will grant when it is satisfied that a person has met the legal and procedural requirements needed to obtain a divorce. It is important to note that after a Decree Nisi has been granted a person is not yet ‘divorced’. The Petitioner must wait at least six weeks and one day to make their application for a Decree Absolute.

A Decree Absolute is the final decree which dissolves the marriage. The Petitioner’s solicitor applies to the court for this and there is no further requirement to attend Court. After the Decree Absolute has been granted the person is ‘divorced’.

What is Ancillary Relief?

Simply put, ancillary relief is the legal term for a financial settlement that is Court lead. Either party can apply for Ancillary Relief, but this must be after the Divorce Petition has been issued. The purpose of Ancillary Relief Proceedings is to divide the matrimonial assets according to the needs and requirements of the parties. Ancillary relief will involve the exchange of discovery (see below) and normally a Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing.

The Court can make different Orders during this process including

  1. Maintenance Orders, which orders one party of the marriage to make maintenance or periodical payments to the other.
  2. Lump Sum Orders, which orders one spouse to make a single lump sum of money to the other
  3. Pension Sharing Orders, in which the Court orders the sharing or transfer of pensions between the parties
  4. A Property Adjustment Order which could order the transfer of property, or the sale of a property.

What is Discovery?

Discovery refers to the process in which there is an exchange of information between the solicitors acting for both parties. Documents that are usually included in Discovery are bank statements, payslips, mortgage statements and pension statements. The aim of this is to make sure each side has the same information which will help you negotiate a fair agreement for your final settlement.

What if there are children? Does this effect the divorce process?

If there are children of the marriage under 18, a form called the “Statement of Arrangements for Children” will need to be completed and signed by both parties. This document outlines the level of contact each parent has and what arrangements have been made for the future.

Can I get legal aid for a Divorce?

Legal aid is available to both issue and defend Divorce Proceedings. It is also available for Ancillary Relief proceedings. This is dependent on your disposable income. It is important to note that depending on your financial circumstances you may be required to make a small contribution towards your legal fees as well as receiving legal aid. In addition, if you are awarded money or retain property such as the former matrimonial home at the end of divorce, you may have to pay the Legal Services Agency back – this is called the statutory charge.