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Stewarts Solicitors

Expert solicitors throughout Northern Ireland

Divorce & Separation

  • Divorce and dissolution of civil marriages
  • Separation
  • Financial & property matters & Maintenance
  • Co-Habitation

We offer a no obligation initial consultation about getting a divorce, and offer flexible pricing including fixed fee costs for Divorce and all our Family Law services.

Divorce, dissolution of civil partnership

Our Divorce Solicitors know that divorce often involves high emotions, especially when there are children involved. Our team of Divorce Solicitors & Separation Lawyers are sensitive to your needs during this difficult time, and work with you to resolve your divorce with compassion and efficiency.

Many of our Family Solicitors are members of the collaborative family lawyers group, an organisation committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes through non-confrontational communication. Our Family Solicitors encourage solutions that consider the needs of the whole family, in particular the best interests of any children or dependants.

To obtain a divorce you must demonstrate to the Court that your marriage is at an end; i.e. that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”.

Grounds for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership

A divorce petition must be grounded on one of the following reasons:

  • two years separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce
  • five years separation
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • adultery
  • desertion

A dissolution of civil partnership must be grounded on one of the following reasons:

  • two years separation with the consent of the other partner to dissolve the partnership
  • five years separation
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion

When the case is ready, it will be heard before a judge. If they are satisfied that the marriage has broken down irretrievably a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order will be granted.

After a minimum of six weeks and one day an application can be made to make the Decree Absolute, or the Conditional Order, final. Only when the Decree Absolute is granted or the Conditional Order is made final, is the marriage/civil partnership dissolved.

The court also has powers to make orders on financial, maintenance and property relating to the civil partnership/marriage.

NB. The person issuing the divorce is the petitioner and the other party is the respondent.

Separation

If you have decided to separate, but do not want to consider a divorce for the time being, a separation agreement is strongly recommended.

Such an agreement sets out what you both agree should happen to the matrimonial home, and all the other assets such as savings and investments, endowment policies and pension funds. This means that there are no ‘loose ends’ that can cause problems later. The courts can enforce all aspects of a separation agreement if necessary.

Finances, Property & Maintenance

The uncertainty of your future financial security and protection adds significant stress to an already difficult time. One needs to consider what level of income and capital should be provided for the less wealthy spouse, for the benefit of any children, and what degree of provision would be optimal. The process can be relatively straightforward, whereby direct negotiations between the two partners occur, or more complex, whereby Court proceedings are needed in order to divide assets amicably.

There are now a number of options available to couples when trying to decide how to divide assets, ranging from direct negotiations with one another to court proceedings. In some cases, court proceedings may be necessary, which is usually when you or your spouse are not prepared to provide details of your income, assets and liabilities. It is also useful in cases where your spouse simply ignores correspondence or requests for disclosure. It can also be necessary when you have already tried all other options and you simply cannot reach an agreement.

This process will normally involve a series of three hearings at court. An application for the court to determine a financial settlement cannot be made unless divorce or dissolution proceedings have already been commenced.

In either case, our Solicitors can guide you through the stages involved, and try to minimise conflict and upset for both parties at all times. Consideration is placed particularly on the future welfare of any children or dependants of the party.

We can assist you in respect of:

  • Maintenance (child and spousal)
  • Financial provision/ancillary relief
  • Pension Sharing
  • Property Adjustment Orders
  • Co-Habitation

People often think that couples who have been living together for a long period of time are ‘common law’ husbands and wives; but there is no such legal status in the UK. The Law refers to ‘living together’ relationships as Cohabitation; people living together are called ‘Cohabitees’.

Our Cohabitation Agreement Solicitors can advise you on the cohabitation issues you should consider, where you stand legally; and how a Court would view your arrangements.

Cohabitation Agreements are increasingly popular as more and more couples are living together, and want to protect their individual assets and income in case of separation.

A Cohabitation Agreement can record details such as:

  • Who owns what at the start of a relationship.
  • How any property acquired during the relationship will be owned.
  • Who will be responsible for mortgage and other property costs etc.

Your Cohabitation Agreement can be tailored to meet your individual needs and circumstances. A Cohabitation Agreement can also provide a framework for what will happen if the relationship breaks up.

Other Family law services

  • Domestic Violence & Harassment
  • Children matters

Frequently Asked Questions

Here our experienced divorce solicitors and separation solicitors answer some of the most frequently asked questions during our initial free solicitor consultation.

If I have been separated for 2 years am I automatically entitled to a divorce?

No, you would need the other party’s consent.

Can I get a divorce based on my own adultery?

No. You cannot petition for divorce based on the grounds that you have committed adultery. Your spouse could petition on these grounds, or you could use other grounds for divorce most commonly unreasonable behaviour.

If I want to rely on my spouse’s adultery after we are separated will it still count?

Yes, as long as you have not reconciled following the adultery for a period of six months.

Can I still initiate divorce proceedings on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two-year separation or five-year separation, even if we continue living together?

Yes, provided that, prior to the date that your divorce petition is presented you are not living as man and wife i.e. separate bedrooms and not sharing any domestic tasks.

How long does it take to get divorced?

A typical divorce takes between 4 and 6 months. Much depends on whether or not your spouse responds quickly when he or she receives your petition, and whether he/she wishes to defend it. The divorce may also be delayed due to the division of matrimonial assets as it is best to completely resolve this before you apply for the decree absolute. Further the time frame will be effected if a Legal Aid application is merited.

My partner lives/works abroad. Can I start proceedings in Northern Ireland?

Yes, provided that you and/or your partner meet certain criteria relating to where you now live both on a physical basis and also where you intend to live. This can be very complicated and it may also be of great importance to start proceedings in Northern Ireland before they are commenced abroad.

Will there be an equal division of the assets?

The law provides that a number of factors must be considered when deciding how to resolve financial matters between spouses. There is no presumption of an equal division of the assets and such a resolution will not be appropriate in all circumstances.

However, the law also states that there must be good reason for departing from equality.

What do I do about child maintenance?

If there are children from the marriage then it will almost always be necessary for child support to be paid. This will either be calculated by the Child Support Agency agreed or in accordance with their formula. The basic calculation, subject to contact arrangements and certain other factors, is 15% of net income for one child, 20% for two and 25% for three or more children.

To calculate the potential amount visit the Child Support Agency website.

What happens with my pension?

On a divorce or separation, pensions are treated as an asset that can be divided between the parties. A pension is a valuable asset that you may have been building up during your whole working life. The Court has the power to share a pension between husband and wife. This does not happen in every situation and on many occasions it will not be appropriate. Specific advice will be required in each individual case. Before negotiations can take place you will need to obtain a cash equivalent transfer value (CETV) from your pension provider.

This is the value of your pension at the date you make the request and the value that your pension would be given if you were able to transfer it to a new pension scheme. If your pension is already in payment you will need to obtain a cash equivalent benefit statement from your pension provider, as well as letting us have your last three payment slips. It is also sensible to obtain a forecast upon the state pension, which can be done online at the Pension Service. It is therefore important that on a divorce or dissolution the division of this asset is carried out in the most appropriate and effective way for both parties. There are five options in dealing with a Pension:

  1. Pension Sharing
  2. Deferred Pension Sharing Order
  3. Offsetting
  4. Deferred lump sum
  5. Pension Attachment Order

Will I have to sell the “family home?”

It is a possibility that the home will have to be sold. Again this does not always happen and there are a number of other possible outcomes such as one party buying the other party out or the home not being sold until the youngest child is aged 18. Again specific advice will be required in each individual circumstance. Whether or not you will have to sell the house depends on a range of factors, such as:

  • Your income
  • Your earning capacity
  • Any other property and financial resources which either you or your spouse own or are likely to have in the foreseeable future
  • Any financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which either of you have, or are likely to have in the foreseeable future
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage
  • Any physical or mental disability of either of you, or your children
  • The contributions which you have both made to the marriage, both in financial terms and also in looking after the home and caring for the family
  • The conduct of both you, if the court thinks it would be unfair to ignore it.

There are usually three options regarding what happens to the former matrimonial home when the finances are divided on divorce. Either:

  • You sell the house and split the proceeds according to pre-agreed shares. A 50/50 split may or may not be appropriate, depending on various factors, such as the length of the marriage, and the contributions made to the property. If you can’t agree on your shares, it is possible for the money to be held in a secure solicitors’ bank account until you can agree. In the meantime, the solicitor will have to account to both of you for any interest earned; or
  • One of you keeps the house, and “buys the other out”. This means that you pay the other party a lump sum in return for the property being transferred into your sole name. This is effectively to compensate them for their share in the property, and allows them to put a deposit down on their own property if they want to. If you are considering this option, the party who keeps the house will need to see a mortgage broker to check that they can afford to take on the existing mortgage or that they have enough borrowing power in their own name to re-mortgage; or

The sale of the house is postponed, and one of you remains in the property in the meantime. The person who leaves the house takes a charge over the property, which is usually expressed as a percentage of the total value of the property. The sale of the house will be “triggered” on the first to occur of certain events, usually:

  • The death of either party
  • The youngest child reaching the age of 17 or finishing full time secondary education, whichever is the earlier; or
  • The remarriage of the person retaining the property. As with option (b), the person remaining in the property should make sure that they can take on the existing level of borrowing, as often the person who leaves will need to get a new mortgage for their new property.
  • Any financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which either of you have, or are likely to have in the foreseeable future

So, whether you will have to sell the house or not depends on a number of factors that will need to be balanced against each other. Our specialist matrimonial solicitors will be able to guide you through the process and help you reach the right solution for your family.

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