UK Divorce Law Is Intricate: Know the Details before You Proceed


It is an unfortunate part of life that relationships between couples sometimes break down. Whether a couple is legally married or engaged in a civil partnership, a breakup results in certain consequences having to do with finances, children, shared property, etc. In the UK, divorce law is very intricate and differs depending on where you live.

If you are in the midst of a relationship breakup, it is important for you to know the details of how the law works before proceeding. You might seek advice from a community legal aid organisation or a qualified divorce law solicitor. In either case, you will need proper legal advice to make sure all of the loose ends are tied up.

Differences in the Law

As you probably already know, there are plenty of differences in the way things work throughout the various jurisdictions of the UK. Where divorce law is concerned, England and Wales are very similar. The laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland are significantly different. Here are highlights of some of those differences according to the Citizens Advice Bureau:

  • England and Wales – In England and Wales you must have a marriage legally recognised by the law before you can file for divorce. Furthermore, you must have been married for at least a year and one, or both of you, must have lived in England or Wales for at least a year prior to your divorce application being filed.

Couples in England and Wales can avoid litigation by filing an undefended divorce. This typically means neither party is contesting the breakup. If one party does not agree, solicitors will need to be engaged. A court will grant the divorce only if it can be proved that the marriage no longer exists for practical purposes.

  • Scotland – In order to be granted a divorce in Scotland, at least one of the parties must make his or her normal home there. Under Scottish law, there are only two grounds for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship or one of the partners chooses to be recognised as transgender and has officially adopted his or her new chosen gender.

Just like England and Wales, both parties can choose not to contest the breakup in order to avoid complicated litigation. In Scotland, such circumstances are eligible for a do-it-yourself divorce. However, a qualified solicitor will still be necessary in order to make things official. If one party chooses to contest the breakup, a court hearing will be required.

  • Northern Ireland – In the Northern Ireland, the divorce laws are little more stringent. For example, not only must your marriage be recognised under UK law, you must also have been married for minimum of two years before you can file. In terms of residency, either you or your partner must be a Northern Ireland resident for at least six months.

If a couple has no children and neither party contests the divorce, it can usually be completed without the help of the solicitor. When children are involved, a solicitor is required. Like the other three jurisdictions, you can choose an undefended proceeding or hire solicitors and engage mediation and litigation.

Divorce and Children

If you have children, the most important part of your divorce settlement will relate to how they are cared for. The children are more important than anything else, including your shared property and your finances. According to the GOV.UK website, parents are required to make sure their children are looked after before a divorce will be granted.

That starts with the agreeing as to where the children will live most of the time. More often than not, the mother is made the full-time custodial parent while the father spends limited time with the children. If a couple cannot agree on child custody the court will make that determination for them.

In addition to full-time living status, parents must also agree as to where children will spend time with them respectively. In other words, one parent may live in Wales while the other lives in Scotland. That will need to be designated as part of the provision stating where the children will spend their time.

Lastly, agreement must be reached as to who will provide child maintenance from a financial standpoint. This is often an area of contention that needs to be decided by a court. Couples preferring to avoid court can use the services of a family mediation counsellor certified under UK law. Mediation is an easier and less stressful means of reaching a divorce agreement.

Finances and Property Distribution

The financial aspects of divorce focus on three areas: providing financially for children, paying mutually incurred bills, and dividing shared property. As far as the children are concerned, the law requires both parents to provide financially for their well-being. Usually one parent will incur a higher share of the child maintenance costs according to income.

In the area of mutually incurred bills, both parties can be held responsible if both names are on an account. It is wise to settle any outstanding balances as part of your divorce agreement before each party strikes out on their own. At that point, establishing separate accounts for utilities, car insurance, etc. is obviously a must.

Perhaps the most difficult component of finances is the division of mutual property. If partners can mutually agree on the dispersal of property, it is possible to settle an undefended divorce without litigation. However, in a contested divorce a court will determine who gets what property according to the couple’s circumstances.

Even though it is sometimes possible to settle an undefended divorce without the help of the solicitor, the child and financial aspects really make that difficult. Couples are better off retaining the services of a solicitor and gleaning from that individual’s expertise. That is the best way of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement that holds up to the law.

Housing Considerations

Housing arrangements after divorce depend heavily on the situation prior to the start of the divorce proceeding. A couple may own a home with a joint name mortgage or the mortgage can be in the name of just one partner. The same is true for leasing arrangements. A couple can be named jointly in the lease or it can be assigned to a single party. Consider the following:

  • Joint Home Ownership – If a mortgage exists in the names of both partners, each one is legally obligated to make sure the mortgage is paid. It might be possible to have ownership of the home given to one of the parties by order of the court, thereby allowing the mortgage to also be transferred into a single name. Otherwise joint ownership will remain.
  • Joint Leasing – When a couple rents a home it is not uncommon for both of their names to be included on the lease. In the case of a relationship breakup, both are still legally responsible for upholding the terms of the lease, including monthly rental payments. That said, landlords tend be more flexible in this area than banks and mortgage lenders. You might be able to get a lease changed by simply explaining your circumstances.
  • Individual Rights – When a court gives possession of housing to one partner, that individual has the right to enjoy the peaceable and comfortable use of that housing. The court usually allows the other partner the right to return to the home to collect personal belongings and, in some cases, even the right to reside in the home temporarily until other arrangements can be made.

One of the more important issues when it comes to housing is dealing with the circumstance of a violent spouse. Obviously, regardless of how the court assigns the housing, an abused partner should seek to have the abuser removed or remove him or herself. No housing arrangement is worth the risk of physical abuse.

Retaining a Solicitors

Divorce proceedings are such that it is always a good idea to use a solicitor. If you cannot afford one, you may be eligible for government sponsored Legal Aid. However, only solicitors certified by the UK government have access to Legal Aid funds. If you think you might use Legal Aid, you will need to search for certified solicitor.

In order to find a solicitor, you have a couple of choices. The first is to go online and use one of the many search websites that exist. Some sites let you search by postcode, type of attorney you need, or both.

The second option is to contact the Law Society, the UK’s largest professional organisation for solicitors and law firms. Not every law firm is a member of the Law Society, but those that are come highly recommended. By contacting the Society, you will be able to find a solicitor with a guaranteed reputation.

Your last option is to simply look up solicitors online or in your phone book and start making calls. This is the least desirable option if efficiency and speed is one of your goals. It is time-consuming and wearying, to say the least.

In your search for solicitor, make sure you do not simply settle for one who appears to offer a good deal. There are plenty of websites where you can find solicitor reviews; these reviews might be written by consumers, professional organisations, or media outlets. Also, take advantage of the opinions of friends and family members who may have already used the services of a solicitor.


Divorce is not something any of us look forward to on our wedding day. Nevertheless, since it does happen, it is a good idea to know how the process works where you live. If you are in the midst of a relationship breakup, take the time to seek counsel, find a solicitor, and learn as much about the processes you can. Also remember that it is not the end of the world; you can get through and get on with your life on the other side.

Search websites are a great way to find solicitors in your area. You can search for those specialising in divorce law or those that offer several areas of practice. In most cases, you can search by postcode in order to exclude those solicitors that are too far away for your work with. Always be sure to reference any solicitor you decide to work with.

UK Divorce Lawyers – An online organisation acting as both a solicitor directory and a place for divorce and separation advice. Their interactive map makes searching for solicitor as easy as the click of a mouse. – A website letting you search for solicitors by postcode or areas of specialisation. You can find specialist divorce lawyers all over the UK with this site. They also offer a limited amount of advice.

The Law Society  – The UK’s largest professional organisation for solicitors. On this site, you can search for solicitor, take advantage of a large library of helpful advice, or learn about the Society.

Contact Law – An organisation offering directory services for UK consumers absolutely free. Their database currently includes more than 5,000 solicitors; some specialise in divorce law while others practice in multiple areas.

Right Solicitor – This is a unique site where you can ask a solicitor a question online and get a free response within minutes. If you decide you want to pursue your case, they will help you find a qualified solicitor in your area. If not, you are on your way.

Solicitors Regulation Authority – As an impartial and government organization the SRA cannot recommend solicitors but they can help you find one if you visit this site. They also offer a lot of helpful advice you can take advantage of while you are there.

Lawyer Locator – This website lets you search by postcode or area of law. They have hundreds of law firms and individual solicitors in their database; and the search engine is fast.

If you just need some advice and you are not yet ready to seek a solicitor, there are plenty of organisations that can counsel with you. Some of these organisations are community legal aid groups while others are support groups specialising in divorce and separation. Here are some links to help get you started:

Divorce Aid – This is an organisation of industry professionals offering advice both personally and online. They can help you work through childcare issues, financial questions, and even locating a solicitor in your area.

The Money Advice Service – An independent, online portal offering unbiased advice regarding family and finances. Their divorce advice section includes information about proceeding with the separation agreement, spousal and child maintenance, dividing property, and so one. – A site run by a Netherlands-based professional counsellor who is also a former UK resident. This counsellor splits her time between the UK and the Netherlands, offering clients in both countries excellent counselling services for the family.

Family Lives – UK charitable organization offering counselling and assistance for families. You can avail yourself of the online information regarding divorce and separation or use the website to contact someone you can speak with in person.

Divorce Support Group – A national organisation dedicated to helping individuals work their way through divorce and deal with the aftermath. Services are provided through professional counsellors, small support groups, and other avenues.