Three steps to an uncontested divorce

Getting divorced is always a sad and stressful time for the couple concerned. However, once a couple have reached the conclusion that a divorce is the only option, having a clear understanding of what is involved in the divorce process and adopting a planned approach will help towards minimising the stress and anxiety. In this article, we provide a straight-forward guide to the various steps that need to be taken to start and complete a divorce, assuming it is uncontested (ie: both parties agree to divorce).

Step 1: File for divorce
To start the divorce process, one of the couple (known as the ‘petitioner’) will need to complete a ‘divorce petition’. This form is referred to as a ‘Divorce/judicial separation petition (Form D8)’ and is used to specify a number of details, including the reason you want a divorce, and the name of your spouse (known as the ‘respondent’) and whether or not you have children. If you do have dependent children, you will also need to complete a form known as a ‘Statement of arrangement for children (Form D8A)’ and send it along with your divorce petition to the court (you can find a divorce court near to you through www.direct.gov.uk).This is known as ‘filing for divorce’.

Once the court has received your divorce petition, it will send a copy of it to your husband or wife, together with another form known as an ‘Acknowledgement of service (Form D10)’. Your spouse will have to complete and return this form within seven business days before you can go onto the next stage of the divorce process.

Step 2: Apply for a ‘decree nisi’
Assuming your spouse agrees to the divorce, the next step is to apply for a ‘decree nisi’. This involves the ‘petitioner’ completing of an ‘Application for a decree nisi (Form D84)’, as well as a ‘Statement in support of divorce’, which is used to confirm the reason you want a divorce. By law, there are only five reasons you can cite for wanting a divorce and each has its own form. You will need to complete one of these:

•    Statement in support of divorce – adultery (Form D80A)
•    Statement in support of divorce – unreasonable behaviour (Form D80B)
•    Statement in support of divorce – desertion (Form D80C)
•    Statement in support of divorce – 2 years’ consent (Form D80D)
•    Statement in support of divorce – 5 years’ separation (Form D80E)

The court will review your application and statement and if it is satisfied that there are indeed grounds for the divorce, will send you and your spouse a ‘certificate of entitlement to a decree’. This lets you know the date and time when a judge will grant your decree nisi (you don’t have to actually attend court for this).

Step 3: Apply for a ‘decree absolute’
Once you have received your decree nisi, you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’, which will officially bring your marriage to an end. The form needed for this part of the process is a ‘Notice of application for decree nisi to be made absolute (Form D36)’. If the judge is satisfied that there is nothing to stop the divorce being finalised (financial issues or arrangements for children, for example), a decree absolute will be issued to you and your spouse. At this point, you will be legally divorced and able to re-marry should you wish to.

Take a look at our Divorce Law Centre to learn more about the divorce process and how you can get a divorce online.

If your situation is more complicated and you need to do more research, useful resources include:
Citizens Advice
Direct Gov
The Law Society

Making a Will: when and why

Most people know what a Will is. They also know that at some point in their lives they will need to make one, but many put it off in the belief that it is something they can deal with later on in life. However, there are several points or stages during most peoples’ lives when a Will should seriously be considered. Below we provide a list of these life-stages and explain why getting a Will is so important.

Getting married or entering a civil partnership:

Perhaps the last thing on most newly-weds’ minds is getting a Will, but what many people are unaware of is the fact that when you get married, any Will you had before you got married will usually become invalid.  This means if you died after your marriage or civil partnership before making a new Will, you would be deemed to have died ‘intestate’. Dying intestate means the State decides how your estate (belongings, property and money) is distributed, regardless of your or your spouse’s wishes.  Getting a ‘Will for a married person/civil partner’ or a ‘mirror Will’ is easy to do and lets you and your spouse specify exactly how you want your assets to be distributed amongst your family.

Living together:

Unlike married couples or civil partners, unmarried couples are not automatically entitled to inherit one anothers’ estates should one partner die without a Will. This applies even if the couple have been living with each other for years and even have children together. It is therefore essential that unmarried couples in this situation make a Will to specify exactly what they would like their partner to inherit should they die. Without a Will in place, the deceased’s partner would not be entitled to anything and his or her estate would be distributed by the State to other family members.  It is advisable for each partner to make a ‘Will for an unmarried person‘ in order to ensure each partner is protected should one die before the other.

Having children:

Perhaps the most important reason to make a Will when you have a child is that it allows you to nominate someone you know and trust to look after your child or children should you and your partner die. Known as a ‘guardian’, this person will be legally responsible for taking care of your children; without a legal guardian, it will be down to the courts and the State to decide who and how your children are cared for. And if you have children from a previous relationship, making a Will lets you specify exactly what you would like each one of your children to inherit.  Depending on the marital status of the parents, the following types of Will are suitable for parents: ‘Will for married person or civil partner’, ‘mirror Will’, ‘discretionary trust Will’ or a ‘Will for an unmarried person’.

Buying a property:

For most people, their house represents the highest value item in their estate and what happens to it when they die needs to careful consideration.  Buying a property will also impact your Inheritance Tax status by bringing the value of your estate closer to or may be exceeding the nil-rate threshold (currently £325,000). The most important factor in determining what happens to house when you die is how it is owned. The options are: sole tenant, joint tenants or tenants in common.  If the house is owned as a joint tenancy, it will automatically pass to the surviving tenant if the other dies. However, in the case of sole tenants and tenants in common, a Will should be used to specify exactly what should happen to the property when the owner or owners die.

Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership:

If you made a Will while you were married, it is likely that this leaves your estate to your spouse should you die before him or her. You might also have named your spouse as an executor – the person responsible for ensuring the wishes in your Will are carried out.  If this is the case and you died after your divorce without having changed your Will to reflect your changed circumstances, you may be considered to have died intestate and your assets will be distributed by the State. Having an updated or new Will place after you divorce is therefore vital to ensure your estate is distributed exactly how you wish it to be. Making a ‘Will for an unmarried person’ will help to avoid confusion and disputes within your family.

Retirement:

Retirement is a good point at which to take stock and review your Will. It is likely that since you first made your Will, your financial situation will have changed, as will the lives of your family members. Take time to think about how you might want to amend your Will to make it more tax efficient, or perhaps consider a ‘discretionary trust Will’ if you want to protect against assets being used by a local authority to cover the cost of residential nursing care for your spouse. This type of Will can also be used to ensure that children from a previous relationship are provided for. Minor amends to your Will can be made using a document known as a ‘codicil’ or for more substantial changes, making a completely new Will is advisable.

As we have seen, there are many important reasons to make a Will and to ensure it is regularly updated to reflect any changes in your circumstances. Putting it off can end up causing unnecessary upset and hardship to the family members left behind.

So what’s stopping you?

Take a look at our Wills and Probate Law Centre to read more about your options. You find out how easy it is to create a Will and to get the peace of mind that comes from knowing your family’s interest will be protected when you die.

2012 Olympic Games: Employers, are you ready?

The Olympic and Paralympic Games in London are likely to directly or indirectly affect every business in the UK. ACAS has provided guidance for employers on how to deal with the consequences of London hosting the Games.

According to ACAS, there are 4 categories of employees:

1. Spectators with tickets to see the Games
2. Volunteers providing services during the Games
3. Those who will want to watch the Games whilst at work
4. Those who have no interest in the Games

Managing requests for time off work
Employees who fall under the first and second categories will want to take time off work, which may result in many employees wanting the same days off. Managing competing holiday requests can be difficult. Employers should talk to their staff about their plans in order to:

• determine who may require time off and when
• assess the likely impact it may have on the business’s operations or projects
• determine the maximum number of employees that can be on leave at any one time

Employers should apply any pre-existing policy that they have on booking annual leave or, if the policy is not suitable in these circumstances, agree with their employees (and any union) to temporarily vary it for the duration of the Games. Any variation to a policy should be communicated to all employees. If an existing policy will be used, then a copy of it should be redistributed to all employees to ‘refresh’ their memories.

ACAS states that a ‘first come first served’ approach to booking holiday leave may be a suitable policy for some businesses. Their guide also reminds employers and employees that there is no legal right to be paid whilst volunteering or to be given time off in order to volunteer, although employers should check any pre-existing policy before making a final decision.

Avoiding employee absences
It is in the employers’ interests to avoid higher numbers of absenteeism during the Games. ACAS advises that to avoid performance issues with employees who come under the third category (who may resort to watching the Games on their computers), employers should consider allowing employees to watch specific popular sporting events on a TV.

Employers should be mindful that different nationalities or ethnicities may have different views on what they regard to be the most ‘popular’ events and they should act fairly to avoid possible claims of discrimination.

Employees in the fourth category (those not interested in the Games) should be offered a concurrent break or time off in lieu.

Travel disruptions and time keeping
With millions of people expected to converge in London and the surrounding areas for the Games, the impact on the transport system will be considerable. The Government has asked employers to consider making alternative arrangements for employees to work from home or avoid travelling during ‘peak’ times.

Employers whose employees may be affected by travel disruptions should consider taking the following action:

• Find out how employees travel to and from work
• Consider how employees’ travel may be affected by, for example, amendments to public transport timetables, road closures or diversions, or due to travelling through likely congestion ‘hot spots’
• Discuss with employees any possible alternative routes or modes of travel
• Ensure that lines of communication with employees are up-to-date and that they know how to get in touch with their line manager if they are delayed.

If an employee is likely to be affected by travel disruptions then the employer should firstly check the employee’s contract to see if it contains a mobility clause (allowing an employer to move them to other locations) and/or a flexibility clause (allowing an employer to vary working hours).
The employer should then consult with the employee (or their union representative) over the proposals to amend their contract.

Depending on the terms of the contract, options include asking the employee to:

• work from home (where practical) for either part or all of the working week
• work from another location or office
• work different hours.

Employers must ensure that the employee knows that the amendment is only a temporary change whilst the Games are being held.

The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement.

What this means for you
If you have not already done so, you should now start assessing and, if necessary, preparing.
Golden rules to remember:

• Ensure that you have a clear policy which is communicated to all your employees to avoid potential misunderstandings or conflicts
• Act consistently and fairly when applying a policy to your employees
• Treat your employees equally and avoid making decisions that could be perceived as directly or indirectly discriminatory (such as imposing flexible working patterns on employees who are disabled, a carer for a disabled person or those with childcare responsibilities who are less flexible due to their circumstances)
• Use the Games as an opportunity to enhance staff morale and productivity.

If in doubt seek legal advice before taking any action.

How MyLawyer can help you
Our ‘Employee Handbook‘ provides up-to-date procedures and policies for your business, including policies on booking time off work and on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Visit our Employment Law Centre to read more about how employment law affects all businesses in the UK and the solutions available to protect yourself and your employees.