The expert lawyers at Higgins Miller specialise in dealing with matters of family law. This means helping people to cope with some of the most stressful life events they will ever face, such as handling wills and probate following the death of a loved one, dealing with domestic abuse or handling children disputes. Our experience in matters such as these has taught us that clients appreciate a blend of expert, up to the minute legal advice and empathetic emotional support, and that’s exactly what we set out to provide when dealing with divorce procedures.
Accepting that a relationship has come to an end is always going to be difficult to cope with, and dealing with the formal processes involved in divorce procedures is often the last thing that someone splitting from their spouse will feel like doing. Working with the team at Higgins Miller will make everything easier, however, as we know from experience that the best course of action for any couple embarking on divorce procedures is always to try and agree as much as possible in an amicable manner. This applies not so much to the formal divorce procedures themselves, as these are strictly set out in law, but rather to matters concerning issues such as the financial fallout of the divorce and the future welfare of any children.
Wherever it is possible we try to persuade our clients to work with their partner through a process of mediation. This is not a question of attempting to forge some kind of reconciliation between a couple, as we accept that sometimes launching divorce procedures is the best course of action. Instead, mediation is about working together as calmly as possible to reach an agreement on the kind of issues that are most often responsible for divorce procedures leading to conflict and, in many cases, expensive, time-consuming and stressful appearances in court.
In the vast majority of cases the divorce procedures themselves run fairly smoothly, with parties agreeing the grounds for divorce from the following list:
- Adultery – when the spouse has had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex.
- Unreasonable behaviour – these grounds can apply to many things, from domestic violence to controlling behaviour and even a spouse spending too much time focused on work or a hobby. In many cases unreasonable behaviour is used as the grounds for divorce when no other grounds apply and a couple have simply drifted apart.
- Living apart for more than two years – if spouses have lived apart for at least two years, and both agree to the divorce, then these grounds can be used.
- Living apart for more than five years – if the spouses have not been living together for at least five years either partner can file for divorce even if the other does not agree.
For many couples, the divorce procedures themselves are relatively straightforward, consisting of filing papers such as the initial petition, gaining a decree nisi and then turning that into the decree absolute, which formally marks the end of the marriage. Seeking out the advice of experts such as those at Higgins Miller will ensure that every item of paperwork is filled in correctly and sent to the relevant court or divorce centre, and if both parties agree to the divorce taking place these divorce procedures should be completed in four to five months. What may take a little longer – particularly if conflict and bitterness enter into discussions – is reaching an agreement on financial matters and the care of children.
Before getting married, increasing numbers of people are taking the step of drawing up a pre-nuptial agreement setting out how assets will be divided in the event of a divorce. Although not legally binding, agreements of this kind can still hold a great deal of sway if the court is asked to issue a judgement on the fairness or otherwise of a financial agreement post-divorce. What many people might not realise is that it is also possible to enter into a post-nuptial agreement. This is a form of financial settlement entered into after marriage which will cover the following matters:
- How household bills will be paid following a divorce
- Who will live in the family home and what will happen if it has to be sold
- How any outstanding debts will be dealt with
- How savings, investments and other financial assets will be divided
- How possessions which have been purchased jointly will be divided – this could cover anything from pieces of art and items of furniture to motor vehicles
- Whether maintenance will be paid in the future to any children or either spouse
When it comes to settling arrangements for the care of children, divorcing couples can usually be relied upon to put the welfare of the children first and foremost and work to reach an amicable agreement. This is not always the case of course, since divorce procedures, by their nature, are often marked by conflict and bitterness – this is particularly the case where financial matters are concerned, and this can sometimes impact on discussions of child welfare. The framing of either spouse as the ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ in financial issues is bound to lead to further conflict, and often the need to ask the courts to rule on the fairest way of moving forward. Here at Higgins Miller we always work to keep divorce procedures out of court as far as possible and facilitate calm discussions which will encourage agreement, allied to technical legal advice designed to make sure any such agreement is written to be suitably robust and long-lasting.
The key to a successful financial agreement of this kind – and therefore to divorce procedures that run as smoothly as possible – lies in both parties truthfully disclosing the full extent of their financial status, including assets, income, outgoings and liabilities. If the financial agreement is turned into a Court Order and it later emerges that one of the parties was less than truthful in disclosing their financial status, then the other party will have the right to apply for the order to be set aside.
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