It is an unfortunate statistic that one in four marriages in Northern Ireland ends in divorce. So what is the procedure which leads to the dissolution of marriage?
Either a Husband or Wife can bring Divorce proceedings so long as they can show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The person bringing the divorce proceedings is called the Petitioner. The other party to the marriage is called the Respondent.
There are five ‘grounds’ for divorce:
Unreasonable BehaviourUnreasonable behaviour is behaviour by the Respondent which is such that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. Types of this behaviour are wide ranging and can include, for example, aggression either physical or verbal, lack of communication, financial misconduct and addictions.
AdulteryThis ground is cited where the Respondent has engaged in an adulterous relationship during the course of the marriage. The person with whom the adultery has been committed can be joined in the Divorce Petition as a Co-Respondent.
Two Years Separation Plus ConsentThis is available where the parties have lived separately for more than two years and the Respondent consents to the divorce. The parties can have been living in the same property during this period but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where the parties live in the same property but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.
Desertion for Two YearsThis occurs is where one party has effectively left the other party. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.
Five Years SeparationThis ground is available where the parties have lived separate for more than five years and does not require the Respondent’s consent.
A Divorce Petition is issued and served on the Respondent who completes an Acknowledgement of Service Form and lodges it at Court. The case will then be listed for a Decree Nisi hearing. The Petitioner must attend before a Judge who will consider the Petition and hear evidence. If the Court is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been met a Decree Nisi is granted which is an Order indicating that the Petitioner is entitled to obtain a Divorce.
The Petitioner may apply for a Decree Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi hearing. The Decree Absolute means that the parties are legally divorced. Your Solicitor makes the application for a Decree Absolute and you are not required to attend at Court.
Often, if the family finances have not been agreed, Court Proceedings are then issued to determine the finances. These proceedings are called Ancillary Relief proceedings. In cases where the family finances have not been finalised the Petitioner is generally advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until after the finances are resolved. This is because both parties would then lose certain rights such as widow pension benefits.
Once a divorce has been granted any part of a Will leaving assets to a former spouse will be invalid and you may wish to consider making a new Will.
Legal aid may be available to commence divorce proceedings depending on your financial circumstances.
Although a divorce ends a marriage often parties will have to continue to share a relationship with one another for the sake of their children. It is therefore in their interests to try to ensure that the divorce, if at all possible, is not acrimonious and that despite their differences and the end of their marriage they can move on to the next stage of their lives.