With the advent of ‘no-fault divorce’ in 2022, many couples are now able to focus on the practicalities and financial arrangements post-separation, rather than get tied up in lengthy arguments about whose fault the relationship breakdown ultimately was. This has led to a rise in the number couples approaching solicitors when they have either reached an agreement, or are very close to doing so.
Often, those couples have not thought in any great detail about the procedure of divorce to end their marriage. The online no-fault divorce system has streamlined the process, making it feel much more of a tick-box exercise and it can, as a result, fall to the end of the list of things the couple need to deal with. It is however an important step to remember and prioritise.
In these cases, where the couples have already spent time and put in a lot of hard work to reach a point where they are agreed, one thing they want to know is how long it will all take to be finalised.
Securing Legal Closure
The only way to get a final, legally binding agreement is for a document known as a Financial Consent Order to be prepared and approved by the Court. That document contains all the terms agreed by the parties. It is not as straightforward as presenting the agreement for rubber-stamping.
The Court will need a certain level of information from the couple to consider the agreement and decide whether, on balance, the terms agreed are fair. If the Court approves the terms then the Order is sealed and it becomes binding.
This can only happen once Conditional Order has been granted in the divorce. The Court cannot make financial orders before this has happened. Under the no-fault divorce rules, this Conditional Order only be applied for 20 weeks after the divorce application has been issued. It will then be granted around 2-3 weeks after that.
It is therefore important that couples in these situations to get the divorce proceedings started as soon as possible; either while they are negotiating or at the very least as soon as they have reached a financial agreement. If they do not, it will be a long wait before their agreement can be submitted to court for consideration by a judge.
The later a divorce application is made, the longer it will take for the Conditional Order to be granted and ultimately for their agreement to be made binding. This can then impact the timing of, for example, house sales, payments of lump sums, pension sharing arrangements or ongoing spousal maintenance. Careful thought should therefore be given to the timing of the divorce application while the parties are negotiating the wider financial aspects of their separation.
Transparency and the Obligation of Full Financial Disclosure
The other important point couples need to remember is that they have a duty to each other to provide full and frank financial disclosure of their financial and other circumstances. An informed decision can only be made, with advice, if that information is provided. A family lawyer cannot provide advice on a proposed financial settlement with incomplete information and therefore doing so presents its own set of risks.
How Tozers can help
If you require any further advice on the divorce process or require assistance to proceed with a divorce, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Divorce and Finances team.