The overriding principle

There is one firm principle when a relationship breaks down. That is to try and agree everything with your spouse or partner beforehand. If you need help doing this consider mediation. The alternatives to not agreeing everything can be expense, delay and bad feeling.

If you are married there will usually be 3 things to deal with and try to agree.

The Divorce

Dissolving the marriage is relatively easy. One party will present a divorce petition to the court and usually a decree absolute will be pronounced within 3 months without any need for any court appearances or legal expense.

If you are not married all you have to do once you have sorted out money matters and the arrangements for the children is separate.

Money and Property

Financial and property disputes are often referred to as ancillary claims as they are ancillary to the divorce proceedings. The starting point will be a 50/50 split but there are many factors which can vary this and which are dealt with in our financial claims section. There is no limitation period for making claims for financial provision and they can be made many years or even decades later if they are not dismissed by a court.
So be warned and get ancillary financial matters settled at the time of the divorce and if a clean break is intended get this incorporated into an Order.

If a marriage is in trouble and it seems that there could be a divorce there are things that need immediate consideration;-

  • Severing the joint tenancy of property
  • Applying for maintenance pending suit
  • Freezing matrimonial assets
  • Register Notice of Home Charge


The Children

Divorce does not affect parental rights and obligations and it is only when parents cannot agree the arrangements that the court will need to make an order. Our children pages have comprehensive further information.


In straightforward cases it is quite possible for most people to act for themselves but before making any decisions they should be aware of the legal position and their legal entitlements .In certain circumstances however legal help and advice may be necessary. This will be especially the case:-

  • Where the matrimonial assets are substantial, and include pension rights, a business etc.
  • Where it is suspected that your spouse is hiding and not disclosing assets.
  • Where domestic violence makes direct discussion impossible.
  • Where there is domestic violence and an application to the Court may be necessary for your protection.

In exceptional cases a decree of nullity could be available to dissolve the marriage. It is also possible to obtain a decree of Judicial Separation where the parties wish to go their separate ways without having their marriage formally dissolved or to simply agree everything in a separation agreement and then live apart.


Cohabitees and Unmarried Couples

In the case of couples who have not married, breaking up is purely a practical matter, and there is no need to petition the Court for any sort of decree, or indeed involve the law in any way. However there may well be the same ‘ancillary’ matters such as children and property to resolve, which will not be dissimilar to those of a married couple. With no divorce action before the Court, the procedure, if it is necessary to apply to the Court to resolve these issues, will be different. It is dealt with in our sections on cohabitees.