Find out more about separation and divorce using the links below.
Talk to your solicitor
The end of a marriage or civil partnership is a life-changing event. The law in this area is highly complex.
To represent your interests, you should get independent legal advice.
When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, and a couple intend to live separately, they may enter into a separation agreement.
If a couple cannot agree terms for living separately, either person can apply for a decree of judicial separation. If a couple have agreed the terms of their separation, they may also apply for a decree of separation to formalise the agreement.
A separation agreement may cover issues such as:
- Who should live in the family home.
- What should happen to any other property that the couple own.
- Where any dependant children should live, and access arrangements.
- Whether either person should make maintenance payments to the other.
If a couple wishes to negotiate an agreement through solicitors, each person should have their own solicitor to represent their interests.
A couple may prefer to negotiate an agreement through mediation. The Law Society maintains a register of solicitors who are also trained mediators.
When an agreement is reached, drawn up, and signed by both parties, it is usually called a Deed of Separation. This is a legally binding contract.
The parties can apply to make this contract a rule of court. This means that, when the appropriate law applies, the terms agreed between the two people can be legally enforced. You can find out about making a separation agreement a rule of court on the Courts Service website. Either party can also apply for a decree of judicial separation to formalise the agreement.
Any person can apply for a decree of judicial separation from his or her spouse. An application must cite one of the following grounds:
- One person has behaved in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect the other person to continue to live with them.
- One person has deserted the other for a continuous period of at least one year.
- The couple have lived apart from one another for a continuous period of at least one year, and both parties agree to the decree being granted.
- The couple have lived apart from one another for at least three years.
- The Court considers that a normal marital relationship has not existed between the spouses for at least one year.
Applying for a decree of judicial separation
A person can apply for a decree of judicial separation by lodging an original family law civil bill and two copies in the Circuit Court Office.
The bill should set out the main points of a person’s claim, details of the law under which the person is making a claim, and any orders or reliefs (such as maintenance payments) being sought.
A person applying for a decree of judicial separation must also lodge two important documents:
- The Affidavit of Means.
- The Affidavit of Welfare.
The Affidavit of Means lists all of a person’s assets, income details, debts and liabilities, pension information, and regular expenditure.
The Affidavit of Welfare sets out information on any dependent children, including living and access arrangements, and any special education or health needs that they have.
If an applicant is making a claim on a spouse’s pension, he or she must file a notice to trustees.
The Circuit Court Office will retain the original, and give two copies to the applicant. The applicant must have one of these copies served (delivered) to his or her spouse.
You can find more information on the process, and the forms involved, on the Courts Service website.
To legally end a marriage, a person (or persons) must seek a decree of divorce. Find out more about this process using the links below:
What is divorce?
A decree of divorce dissolves the marriage contract. This terminates certain rights, including succession rights. It also gives either party the right to remarry.
If you or your spouse intends to seek a decree of divorce, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Your solicitor will help you to consider the divorce proceedings, and alternatives that can include:
- Entering into a separation agreement that does not require attending court.
- Negotiating the terms of divorce, which can be ruled in court by agreement.
The divorce process
If you issue divorce proceedings, your solicitor will issue a Family Law Civil Bill and serve it on your spouse.
The Bill will include an Affidavit of Means (listing assets, income details, debts and liabilities, pension information, and regular expenditure) and an Affidavit of welfare (containing information on any dependent children, including living and access arrangements and any special education or health needs).
If your spouse wishes to contest the divorce, he or she will file a Defence and Counterclaim.
If you can negotiate a divorce agreement with your spouse, then you can apply to the Court for a date to rule on the consent divorce. If you cannot negotiate an agreement at any stage of the process, the case will proceed to a full trial.
If you are able to negotiate a divorce agreement with your spouse, or your spouse does not contest the divorce, it may take up to six months to secure a date to rule on the consent divorce. If your spouse contests the divorce, the process could take significantly longer.
You can find out more about the divorce process, and download relevant forms, from the Courts Service website.