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CMA Solicitors Workforce Diversity Data 2019

All firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority are required to publish a summary of their workforce diversity data. All individuals who work at CMA Solicitors have been encouraged to take part in our survey, but are under no obligatons to do so. To comply with Data Protection rules we have summaried the data obtaining in such a way as to ensure no individual can be identified. A Summary of the data provided by those who responded to our survey is summarised below.

Role Categories

Solicitor (Partner) 31%

Solicitor (not Partner) 13%

Other fee earning role 19%

Role directly supporting fee earner 31%

IT/HR/other corporate services roles 6%

Age

16 – 24 13%

25 – 34 0%

35 – 44 13%

45 – 54 44%

55 – 64 25%

Prefer not to say 5%

Gender

Male 19%

Female 81%

Prefer not to say 0%

Gender identity different from registered sex at birth

No 100%

Disability according to Equality Act 2010

No 100%

Day to Day Activities limited due to health problems of disability lasting at least 12 months

Yes limited a lot 0%

Yes limited a little 0%

No 100%

Prefer not to say 0%

Ethnicity

British 94%

Irish 6%

Religion or Belief

No Religion 19%

Christian 75%

Prefer not to say 6%

Sexual Orientation

Hetrosexual 88%

Prefer not to say 12%

School Type between the ages of 11-16

UK State run of funded school (selective on academic, faith or other grounds) 31%

UK state school (non-selective) 63%

Prefer not to say 6%

Highest Level Qualification achieved by either of your parents/guardians by the time your were 18

At least one has a degree level qualification 13%

Qualification below degree level 44%

No formal qualifications 19%

Don’t’ know 12%

Prefer not to say 12%

Work of the main/highest income earner in your household when you were aged about 14

Modern professional occupation 13%

Clerical & Intermediate occupation 13%

Senior Managers and administrators 6%

Technical & Craft occupation 19%

Middle or Junior Managers 6%

Traditional Professional occupation 6%

Short term unemployed 6%

Don’t know 13%

Prefer not to say 18%

Primary Carer for a child under 18

Yes 31%

No 69%

Time spent providing unpaid care for those with long term physical or mental ill health caused by disability or age

Yes 1-9 12%

No 88%

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Whether your dispute concerns arrangements for children, the future of the family home or resolving financial assets upon divorce, there is increasing awareness that making an application to the court is often the last resort. Going to court may guarantee you a definitive outcome but sadly, it will also bring with it stress, delay, uncertainty and above all else, costs. ADR includes a wide range of options to help parties resolve their dispute. Which one is best is very much dependent upon the nature of the dispute and the financial resources available to the parties.

Direct discussions

There is no reason why the parties cannot get together and discuss their dispute directly. A kitchen table or a discreet corner in a coffee shop can all be the location for an agreement to be reached. This can happen at an early stage, even before the parties consult with their solicitors. It can also happen at a later stage when the issues have been narrowed but not fully resolved.

However, the parties should appreciate the limitations of the above method. If one party is more financially astute/experienced than the other, an unfair agreement may be reached. Moreover, whatever is ‘agreed’ directly is far from binding. It will inevitably be subject to review and analysis by their solicitors. It may be that the process of review leads to a revision of the original agreement and the parties could end up with something very different than they originally intended.

  • Pros: inexpensive; can resolve matters at early stage
  • Cons: not binding on parties; solicitors may recommend changing any agreement;

Negotiation through solicitors

This is probably the most ‘traditional’ form of ADR available. Proposals are made by one party’s solicitor and responded to by the other party’s solicitor (or the other party directly). Guidance can be offered over the merits of each proposal or counter-proposal along the way. The hope is that eventually an agreement will be reached.

This method of ADR remains extremely common but it has several disadvantages. It takes time for each proposal to be made, considered and responded to. Even with the use of email and telephone calls, reaching a negotiated solution can often take considerable time. Whilst it is usually cheaper than court proceedings, the longer that the negotiations continue, the more expensive it becomes. Of course, there is no guarantee that this process leads to an agreement.

  • Pros: cheaper than court (generally); can avoid unfair outcomes
  • Cons: can drag on unless definite time limit placed on negotiations

Mediation

This has become an increasingly popular form of ADR. It is designed to give the parties an opportunity to take control of matters through a series of meetings with an independent mediator. The mediator’s role is not to provide legal advice. Instead, the mediator will encourage the parties to think carefully and practically about their objectives and endeavour to assist them in reaching a solution. Mediation is not for everyone and its success depends on the ability of both parties to commit to it and to focus on the future, rather than the past.

Mediation is a voluntary process. Nobody can be forced into participating in Mediation and there will occasionally be circumstances when the relationship between the parties means that mediation is not appropriate. It can be tried when each party has their own solicitor representing them, or without either party having a solicitor. It is now a requirement in the great majority of family cases that before court proceedings are issued, a referral to a mediation provider must be made.

If mediation proceeds, the parties will have a series of meetings with the mediator. The objective is to reach an agreement, often known as a Summary of Understanding. The Summary of Understanding is not a legally binding document in any way. Its purpose is to provide a framework for the resolution of the dispute. Once it has been agreed, the parties can reflect upon it or discuss the Summary with their solicitors. If the Summary is accepted by all concerned as appropriate, it can sometimes be converted into a legally binding court order.

  • Pros: cheaper than court/negotiation; works well for co-operative parties;
  • Cons: not always suitable for hostile parties; agreements are not binding

Round-table meetings

One of the drawbacks with negotiation through solicitors is the delay involved. One of the best ways to avoid this is for the parties and their solicitors to all meet together and discuss matters. The chances are that more can be accomplished in a focused meeting or series of meetings than by letters going back and forth over several weeks or months. If an agreement is reached at a round-table meeting, the parties should be aware that such an agreement will need to be clarified and usually converted into a legally binding court order.

  • Pros: focuses parties on resolving key issues; cheaper than prolonged correspondence
  • Cons: meetings depend upon willingness/availability of all concerned

Collaborative Law

Collaborative Law was introduced in the United States and has been adopted on a limited basis in England and Wales. It involves the parties and their solicitors meeting together throughout the dispute to resolve matters. The solicitor must have been trained as a Collaborative Lawyer to offer this service. Meetings may take place with experts such as accountants being present if there are complex financial arrangements to be resolved. The key principle of Collaborative Law is that at the start of the case, each party signs an agreement with their solicitor. This agreement provides that if the dispute is not resolved and leads to court proceedings, the solicitors must cease acting for the parties and play no further role in the case. It is hoped that this lends focus to the parties to resolve matters.

  • Pros: encourages respect/co-operation amongst all involved; can be cost-effective
  • Cons: limited availability of trained lawyers; parties often sceptical over merits of the idea

Arbitration

In family arbitration the parties jointly appoint an arbitrator to make a decision (using the law that applies in England & Wales) over their dispute. The arbitrator acts essentially like a Judge would in court proceedings, eventually making a decision that will be final and binding upon the parties.

Unlike the majority of court proceedings, the same arbitrator will deal with all stages of the case from start to finish. Moreover, the parties have a say in how the proceedings run. They can indicate the timetable to resolve matters, what evidence is needed and how many court hearings are required. Arbitration can deal with all issues that are in dispute or just one or two specific aspects. This provides for flexibility and speed that are not found in court proceedings.

  • Pros: quicker than court; input into timescale/issues to be resolved; binding outcome
  • Cons: more expensive (generally) than other forms of ADR

Summary

The above options are all valid means of resolving matters without court proceedings. It can be seen that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices when it comes to ADR. The choice of which one to adopt will largely hinge upon the wishes of the parties, the nature/complexity of their dispute and the financial resources each of them have available.

Disputes regarding children

Whenever parties cannot agree arrangements over their children, it must be stressed that court proceedings should be the last resort. Contrary to common perception, going to court is not glamorous nor is it guaranteed to provide an outcome that ensures long-term stability for the children. Court proceedings are often stressful, time-consuming, unpredictable and expensive.

For the above reasons, any decision to start court proceedings should be made with caution and professional expertise is recommended. Too many court applications are presented where negotiations or discussion can resolve matters. However, there are clearly situations when these options are not appropriate or fail to resolve matters. In those circumstances, court proceedings are the only option.

Powers of the Court

The court has very wide powers in relation to children but there are five common orders relating to children. These are: residence, contact, parental responsibility, prohibited steps and specific issue. In all cases, the court must carefully consider which type of order is appropriate:

Residence

Residence simply confirms with which person a child should reside. Please note that a child may reside with more than one person – this is known as shared residence. A shared residence order does not automatically mean that care of a child is shared equally.

Contact

Contact is where the person who is caring for a child makes that child available to visit or stay with another person. Contact orders tend to be the most common orders made by the court. Sadly, they also appear to be the most problematic orders to implement and follow.

Parental Responsibility

This provides a person with a recognised right to have a full say in all the issues concerning a child’s upbringing. Such issues could include the health care that a child receives, their ongoing educational arrangements or their religious orientation. All mothers have parental responsibility but fathers do not always have this responsibility. An umarried father may acquire parental responsibility by registering the birth, via an agreement with the mother or by making an application at court. It is also possible for the step-parent of a child to obtain parental responsibility in some circumstances.

Prohibited Steps Order

This order can be obtained where the court wishes to restrict the exercise of parental responsibility. For example, the court can prevent a parent taking a child outside of England and Wales if there is a risk of harm occurring. Such orders should only be made in rare circumstances owing to the impact they have.

Specific Issue Order

This order is made when there is a dispute over how parental responsibility should be exercised. For example, the court can decide upon whether a child should attend a specific school or go on holiday to a specific country. Again, such orders are not made very often

Which order should be made?

In order to decide whether any order should be made, the court will consider the welfare checklist. This is detailed within the Children Act 1989 and refers to the following:

A. the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding);
B. the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
C. the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;
D. the child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristic which the court considers relevant;
E. any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
F. how capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs;
G. the range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings in question.

A central principle of the Children Act is the ‘no order’ principle. This means that the court will only make an order if that order is better for the child than not making any order. There is a presumption that the court should not intervene unless it is in the best interests of the child to do so. When the court does intervene, the main consideration is the welfare of the child and the court recognises that delay is likely to be harmful to a child’s welfare.

Agreement, Mediation and Conciliation

In most cases, the first step is to write to the other party involved in the dispute to see if an agreement can be reached without the need to involve the court. Mediation must normally be tried to help with this objective. If an agreement cannot be reached and court proceedings are started, the court will normally list a conciliation hearing. Conciliation is designed to see whether the court can assist the parties in reaching an agreement at an early stage, without the need for further hearings or directions.

Directions

If a case cannot be resolved at the conciliation stage, the court must consider what further information and evidence is needed to bring it to a conclusion at the earliest opportunity. It may be the case that the parties are directed to prepare statements, setting out their positions and detailing the background to the case. In more extreme cases, it may be necessary to obtain information such as police records, medical records or an expert’s report from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Cafcass

Cafcass are the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service. Their main role is to give advice to the court and provide information, advice and support to children and their families. Cafcass officers will usually be at court to assist the parties at the conciliation stage and will assist the court in reporting on cases where there are concerns over the welfare of children. If a Cafcass report is ordered during your case, it is important that you co-operate fully with the reporter as their recommendations have a strong impact on the outcome of a case.

Enforcing an order

It is not unknown for a person to disobey or ‘breach’ a contact order made within Children Act proceedings. If this occurs then the court can consider punishing the person at fault by ordering them to pay financial compensation or perform community service. Cafcass may also be asked to monitor the situation and report back to the court if necessary.

In very serious cases, a person may be fined or sent to prison if they continually disobey court orders. These powers are used rarely owing to their extreme impact. Where there is a continual history of a parent flouting court orders, the court must strike a balance between punishing the parent at fault without compromising the welfare of the children involved. This is often far more difficult than first appears.

Injunctions and Protection

The breakdown of any relationship can be difficult to deal with. Common problems that parties encounter in these circumstances are:

  • Threats of violence or the use of violence
  • Verbal abuse, intimidation and controlling behaviour
  • Harassment following separation
  • A refusal to leave the family home

If these problems cannot be resolved amicably, it may be the case that an injunction is required.

The Family Law Act 1996

Family injunction orders are normally made under the Family Law Act 1996. They are available in two forms:

Occupation Orders

These often provide for the removal of the perpetrator from the family home or, if the perpetrator has already left, guard against their return to the home. They can also be applied for when the question of occupation of the family home is in dispute.

Non-molestation Orders

These prevent the perpetrator from harassing, using or threatening violence against the victim.

Legal Aid (public funding) may be available to pursue an injunction order.

‘Without notice’ injunctions

Depending on your circumstances, it may be necessary/desirable to make an application for an injunction without telling the perpetrator about it initially. This is known as a ‘without notice’ application. Such applications are very rare for occupation orders. They are more common for non-molestation orders but should still be viewed as exceptional.

If a without notice order is made, the injunction is temporary. A further hearing is listed at the earliest opportunity to provide the perpetrator with an opportunity to attend at court and provide their version of events. ‘Without notice’ orders are seen as exceptional and are not made lightly. The person in charge of your case will advise you over whether your circumstances justify making such an application in the first place.

If the perpetrator does wish to dispute the application for an injunction order, the court must consider what further evidence is required and the case is listed for a contested further hearing so a judge may decide whether the order is required or justified.

Undertakings

An undertaking is a formal promise by a person to the court to refrain from a specific course of action. They are used often as a negotiation device within injunction applications. Once a person gives an undertaking, no findings are made that they have been responsible for incidents of violence or harassment. However, if that person should subsequently breach the undertaking, they are guilty of contempt of court and may be punished by a fine and/or a prison sentence.

Service of an order

Whenever any injunction order is made, the terms of that order only become effective once they have been brought to the attention of the perpetrator. In the case of a ‘without notice’ order, both the injunction order and the original application must be personally served upon the perpetrator. A good quality photograph/description of the perpetrator and full details of their likely whereabouts will help to ensure this is done quickly. If an injunction order is made in the presence of the perpetrator, they are bound by its terms but should still be personally served as good practice. If a perpetrator should breach an injunction order, the consequences depend on the type of order.

Breach of an Occupation Order

When the court deals with an application for an occupation order, they must consider whether to attach a power of arrest to the order. This means that if the perpetrator breaches the order, the police can be notified and the perpetrator can be arrested. In most cases the court will see it as desirable to attach a power of arrest.

If an occupation order is breached that does not have a power of arrest attached, an application must be made to the court in the first instance for the issuing of a warrant of arrest. Once the warrant is issued, it falls to the police to find and arrest the perpetrator.

In cases where there is already a power of arrest attached to an occupation order (or where a warrant is issued and the perpetrator arrested), the perpetrator should be brought before the court within 24 hours after their arrest. It then falls to the court to determine the facts and decide whether a breach of the order has occurred. If the court is satisfied that a breach has occurred, they may:

  • Imprison the perpetrator immediately
  • Suspend the imprisonment for a period of time on the condition that a further breach will activate the prison sentence
  • Fine the perpetrator
  • Make a further/different order

Breach of a Non-molestation Order

Since July 2007, if the perpetrator should breach a non-molestation order, this is a criminal offence and it falls to the police to arrest the perpetrator. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must then decide whether to prosecute the perpetrator and if they are convicted of this offence, they can be fined or sent to prison. This means that the victim needs to provide evidence to the police as part of any investigation and may have to attend at court as well.

Duration of orders

An injunction order normally lasts for 6 months. If necessary, an application can be made to extend the scope of the injunction and its duration. No injunction order can last indefinitely.

Pre-nuptial and Separation Agreements

It has become increasingly common for parties entering into a marriage to consider a pre-nuptial agreement. This is an agreement between the parties setting out how their financial assets would be divided in the event that the marriage should subsequently break down. If you are contemplating a pre-nuptial agreement, or are being asked to enter into one, there are lots of things you need to know over their position in English law.

For parties who have already separated or are contemplating separation, there are often good reasons not to start divorce proceedings immediately. It is often the case that the main priority for the parties is to achieve a financial settlement, rather than actually ending the marriage. Separation agreements are an effective way of meeting this objective. Again though, if the agreement is to be seen as enforceable, it must meet the necessary formalities. They are also subject to practical and legal limitations.

Pre-nuptial Agreements

Unlike in other countries (notably USA), pre-nuptial agreements are not automatically legally binding in England and Wales. This often takes people by surprise and begs the question of why anybody should enter into one in the first place. However, the Supreme Court in England and Wales has recently determined that a pre-nuptial agreement should be binding upon the parties if certain formalities are met. These formalities are subject to some degree of interpretation. What are they and how do they operate?

Full and frank disclosure

A pivotal part of any pre-nuptial agreement is that both parties provide full and frank disclosure of their respective income and assets prior to the marriage. If this requirement is not met, it cannot be said that both parties had a full understanding as to the financial resources available to one another. The likely consequence of inadequate or incomplete disclosure is that the agreement would not be binding on the parties.

Pressure

Each party should freely enter into the agreement. By this, we mean that the parties are signing it without fear, duress or any other form of pressure. A party who is given the agreement the night before the wedding and asked to sign it, failing which ‘the marriage is off’ will clearly be under unfair emotional pressure. If you are contemplating a pre-nuptial agreement, the planning and preparation of this agreement should start several months before the date of the wedding.

What does it mean?

Both parties should have a full appreciation for the implications of the agreement. By this, we mean that each party should ideally have independent legal advice upon the terms of the agreement and what ultimately it means for them. There is no requirement that each party must have instructed a solicitor of their own but it is important that each party at least had the opportunity to seek independent legal advice.

Fairness?

The wider circumstances should not make it unfair for the parties to be held to their agreement. This is harder to define. Even if the other formalities are met, it is still possible that a pre-nuptial agreement would not be upheld. Events such as the birth of a child or children, major illness or an obvious disparity in the overall financial position of the parties after a lengthy marriage may lead to the agreement not being upheld. The best way to guard against this is for a ‘post-nuptial agreement’ to be entered into after the marriage or after any of the above events. It is also recommended that the parties review their circumstances at regular intervals such as every 5 years after the marriage.

Separation Agreements

In English law, an agreement entered into by the parties after they have married is treated differently to one entered into before the marriage. Such agreements are known by a variety of terms. They can be called a ‘Post-Nuptial Agreement,’ a ‘Separation Agreement’ or a ‘Deed of Separation.’ However they are called, the court can recognise such an agreement as legally binding upon the parties. Once again though, the necessary formalities should be observed over how that agreement is prepared and ultimately signed by the parties.

Separation agreements are essentially a contract between the parties. It is common that such an agreement will cover both the division of financial assets and how/when the parties plan to start divorce proceedings. More often than not, the parties agree that a divorce will be put on hold until they have been separated for 2 years. This subsequently allows either one of them to start divorce proceedings on the ‘non-fault’ fact of 2 years’ separation with consent of the other party.

Such agreements do have limitations. If the parties intend for pension assets to be divided, they will have to wait until divorce proceedings have been resolved and ask the court to make appropriate orders at that stage. Another problem may be a refusal on the part of one of the parties to honour the terms of the agreement. It is also not unheard of for one party to suggest that the agreement was deficient or unfair and suggest that additional provision should be made in their favour. If this should occur, the court can express an opinion upon the agreement and make appropriate directions.

Should I enter into an agreement?

Remember that nobody can be forced to enter into any agreement. If you are being pressured, coerced or forced to enter into a Pre-nuptial or Separation Agreement it is more than likely that the terms of that agreement may be unfair towards you. You should always seek independent legal advice over the terms of the Agreement. After all, the chances are that the other party has done so.

Resolving financial matters on separation or divorce

The most challenging aspect of any separation or divorce is how the assets of the parties should be divided between them. Each party inevitably has their own ideas over the best way to achieve a settlement. One party may be determined to sell the family home. The other may want it transferred into their sole name. At all times the parties should keep their dispute in proportion. Spending thousands of pounds arguing when the assets of the marriage are limited is no good to anyone.

The process

Reaching a financial settlement is essentially a three stage process leading to an agreement between the parties. The three stages are:

Stage One

This involves identifying the assets of the marriage, both in joint names and sole names. All assets, however they are held, are potentially available for division between the parties.

Stage Two

This is to put accurate valuations and figures on each of the assets. The parties should disclose to one other documentary evidence to support those values. This is known as financial disclosure.

Stage Three

The final stage is the application of the law to see how the assets should be divided. It must be noted that the court has great flexibility over how assets are divided upon divorce. This flexibility allows for creative solutions. However, it can also lean towards unpredictable outcomes.

Approach of the court

Contrary to speculation, the court does not automatically favour wives nor penalise husbands. Each divorce is unique and must be assessed on its own facts. In all cases though, the position of any minor children of the family is the court’s first consideration. Thereafter, the following factors must always be considered:

a. the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources of each of the parties to the marriage;
b. the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
c. the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;
d. the age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
e. any physical or mental disability of either party to the marriage;
f. the contributions which each of the parties has made, or is likely in the foreseeable future to make, to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family;
g. the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would, in the opinion of the court, be inequitable to disregard it;
h. the value to each of the parties of the marriage of any benefit, which, by dissolution of the marriage, that party would lose the chance of acquiring.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

It must be said that there are generally far better ways of resolving financial matters than making an application to the court. There are a variety of methods available to assist the parties in resolving matters without the need to apply at court:

  • Mediation
  • Direct discussion between the parties
  • Negotiation between solicitors
  • Round table meetings with the parties and their solicitors
  • Arbitration
  • Collaborative Law

Mediation is usually now a compulsory step before any court application is made. This does not mean that the parties must mediate but there must be consideration given over whether it is a suitable means of resolving matters. Most cases are inherently suitable for mediation or other forms of ADR.

Applying to the court

If an agreement cannot be reached through ADR, court proceedings can be started. The initial procedure is as follows:

1. A simple application form is lodged at court along with the court fee (currently £255) and the court will allocate a First Directions Appointment (FDA).
2. Prior to the FDA, the parties must complete a Financial Statement or Form E. The Form E provides full details of their income, assets and liabilities. Once both parties have prepared their Form Es, an exchange of them takes place.
3. Once Form Es has been exchanged, consideration can be made as to any further documents/information that are needed.

The FDA

Both parties should attend this hearing along with their legal representatives. The District Judge dealing with the hearing will address the following:

1. What further information/documentation each party must produce.
2. Whether any expert evidence is needed, such as a valuation for the family home or a pension report.
3. If a settlement is agreed, make a final order.
4. If no settlement is agreed, list the case for a second hearing. This is usually known as a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR).

The FDR

The objective of the FDR is to try and settle the case. It is not a formal court hearing but a meeting for negotiation purposes. The District Judge will consider any settlement offers made and try to assist the parties by suggesting what a likely outcome would be if the case were to proceed to a final hearing. A large number of cases settle at or before this stage. If the case does not settle, the court will list the case for a final hearing in due course.

Final Hearing

This will be before a different District Judge to that who dealt with the FDR hearing. If it still proves impossible to negotiate a settlement, each party can submit their case to the Judge and be questioned about their case by the other party. Once evidence or submissions have been given, the Judge will make an order.

Timescale

It is hard to predict exactly how long a case will last. As a very general guide, if a case does proceed to a final hearing, it will usually finish some 6 to 9 months after it starts. Cases can and do take longer than this, particularly if there are complex issues involved.

Separation, divorce and Civil Partnership dissolution

Divorce has long since lost its historical social stigma. During 2010 nearly 120,000 couples went to the court to ask for a divorce. Despite the common nature of divorce, there are many myths and misconceptions regarding how a divorce is obtained. If you are considering separation or divorce, one of the worst things you could do is speak to other people about their own experiences of separation or divorce. Each divorce is unique and it is vital to receive accurate advice from the outset. Detailed below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning separation and divorce.

Do I have to get divorced?

There is no legal requirement for a separated couple to obtain a divorce. Some separated couples remain married for several years after separating. Some never get divorced but this is not generally recommended. For those who hold strong religious views against the idea of divorce, an alternative to divorce is judicial separation. This allows a couple to resolve financial matters arising from the separation but the couple remain legally married.

Can I have a divorce?

The court cannot consider an application for a divorce or dissolution of a Civil Partnership until at least one year after the marriage/Civil Partnership took place. If the marriage or Civil Partnership breaks down any earlier, it may be possible to have it annulled. An annulment is only available in limited circumstances however.

What are the grounds for divorce?

There is only one ground for divorce or civil partnership dissolution in England and Wales – that the marriage/civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. This must be established by proving one of the following facts:

a. that your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with them;*
b. that your partner has behaved in such a way that you could not reasonably be expected to continue living with them;
c. that your partner has deserted you for at least two years;
d. that you and your partner have lived separate and apart for two years and your partner consents to a divorce;
e. that you and your partner have lived apart for a continuous period of five years.

*Please note that in cases of same sex marriage and Civil Partnership dissolution, adultery cannot be relied upon for a divorce.

We got married abroad. Can I seek a divorce in England and Wales?

The short answer is yes. Provided you (or your partner) have lived in England and Wales over the recent period, the fact that you married abroad does not matter. However, if your marriage certificate is not written in English, you will need to obtain a translation of the certificate when it comes to starting any divorce.

My partner now lives abroad. Can I seek a divorce in England and Wales?

The short answer is again, yes. It can be more difficult to obtain a divorce where your partner lives overseas but provided they can acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers, this should not be a huge obstacle.

My partner has been unfaithful. Do I need to name the third party in my divorce?

There is no requirement to name any third party in a divorce. It is seen as good practice not to name any third party unless there is an expectation that your partner may defend the divorce.

My partner has been unfaithful. Do I need to provide evidence of this to the court?

You should not have to. In most cases, evidence of adultery is not required. Frequently, your partner will be asked to sign a ‘Confession Statement’ by way of admitting their adultery.

Basing my divorce on adultery or unreasonable behaviour means that I will receive a better financial settlement, doesn’t it?

For the overwhelming majority of cases, the reasons why the marriage broke down are simply irrelevant when it comes to how financial matters are resolved.

Will I have to go before a Judge?

Unless the divorce or the issue of costs is disputed, you will not need to go before a Judge to obtain a divorce.

Can I change my mind about the divorce, even if it has started?

A divorce can be stopped at any point before the final decree, known as decree absolute. It is not unusual for parties to have ‘second thoughts’ regarding divorce.

Do I have to use a solicitor?

There is no requirement for anybody to use a solicitor in a divorce. It has become increasingly common for people to pursue a DIY divorce and many do so successfully. However, there are many pitfalls with divorce procedure and solicitors often encounter those who have become stuck or lost along the way.

Divorce takes years to resolve, doesn’t it?

The average timescale for most divorces is four to six months. Divorce can take longer than this; the normal reason is that the parties struggle to resolve financial matters arising from the divorce.

Divorce costs thousands of pounds, doesn’t it?

The most expensive element of any divorce is usually the resolution of financial matters. The costs involved in the actual divorce should not be extensive. Court fees for a divorce/Civil Partnership dissolution are £550. Fees charged by solicitors vary across the country but many solicitors offer a fixed fee for undefended divorce.

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