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Divorce in Northern Ireland: How to separate amicably

Over the years, data has shown that the first working Monday of the year has more enquiries with solicitors for divorce, hence the name ‘Divorce Day’. 

But why is this? Many couples whose relationship has come to an end prefer to have Christmas as amicably as possible, especially if children are involved, before marking the official end of their relationship. Often, they have spent a long period considering all options, before reaching out to a solicitor for official guidance.

Partner Ciara Brolly explains some important steps if you’re looking for a divorce, and what the latest data tells us about divorce in Northern Ireland.

Top three tips when considering divorce in Northern Ireland

  1. The first step to divorcing in Northern Ireland is to lodge a divorce petition to the relevant Court citing the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down and the reasons. A divorce petition is grounded on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and you’ll need to prove that your marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down, and this is proved by declaring one/or more of five facts. 

There are three fault-based facts: Desertion, Adultery, Unreasonable behaviour (this could be alcohol, drug abuse, financial or physical abuse, inappropriate relations with another, etc.)

There are two non-fault based facts: A ‘2-year ground’, a period of separation for two years or more and the other party consents to the divorce on that ground; a ‘5-year ground’; a period of separation for five years or more and consent of the other party is not required.  

  1. If you have children together, try and arrange your plans for parenting and sharing responsibilities before the divorce .It’s better to have your arrangements in mind because when you lodge your divorce petition, you will need to complete a form confirming the arrangements for your children.
  2. Divorce comes with many things to consider, from finances and child care to your emotional well-being. There are many options to help with these, including mediation and counselling. But attending them is a personal choice. 

What information will my solicitor need to help me get divorced?

When you reach out to a solicitor, we need to know the reason why your 

marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. From this, we will be able to guide you through the process, step by step, once the circumstances are known and keep you updated on its progress.

What does the latest data tell us about divorce in Northern Ireland?

The latest numbers from the Registrar General Annual Report found that there were 2,324 divorces in Northern Ireland in 2022, up 13% from 2,040 in 2021.

In 2020, there was a backlog of divorce proceedings due to disruptions in family court operations from the pandemic; it’s likely that this was still affected in 2021, and the upsurge we are seeing now may well be attributable to the lingering effects of pandemic-related delays and their impact on personal relationships.

Length of marriage

The data reveals that the most popular length of marriage getting divorced in 2022 was 30+ years (14% of divorces), followed by 20 – 24 years (11% of divorces) and 25 – 29 (10% of divorces).

These three durations of marriage have always had the most divorces in them when we look at the historical data. It’s not uncommon for people in later life to decide that they want a separate life from their partner. Often children have grown up and the house can feel very different.

Grounds for Divorce in NI

The most common grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland in 2022 were two years separation with consent and five years separation. This means that a couple had been living separately for two or five years. 

  • 44% of divorces happened on the grounds of separation for two years (the same as 2021) 
  • 31% of divorces happened on the grounds of separation for five years (up from 29% in 2021)
  • 13% of divorces happened on the grounds of behaviour (down from 15% in 2021)
  • 8% of divorces happened on combined grounds (same as 2021)
  • 3% of divorces happened on the grounds of adultery (up from 1.5% in 2021)

Divorce by family size and age of children

97% of divorcing couples in Northern Ireland in 2022 had children, with the most popular size being families who had two children accounting for 42% of divorces for those with children, and the most popular age of children being 16 and under, accounting for 79% of divorces for those with children.

Of the couples divorcing who have children:

  • 42% have two children
  • 26% have three children
  • 13% have one child
  • 79% had children aged 16 and under
  • 45% had children aged 10 – 15
  • 28% had children aged five to nine

How much is getting divorced likely to cost?

Estimates depend on the particulars of your case. Once these are known, your solicitor will provide a cost estimate if your case is straightforward, or if not,  provide a guide as to the cost. There are three court fees for a standard divorce, and you should budget £800 to cover the court fees alone.  If the divorce is contested or becomes protracted, your solicitor may have to make additional applications to the court, for instance, to prove service of your divorce papers on the other party; this adds to your costs.

Wilson Nesbitt offers monthly billing for our clients. For a fault-based divorce, you may seek to have the person you’re divorcing pay for the divorce and, if so, be awarded the costs by the court.
If you require legal advice from our team of expert family law solicitors, contact us on 0800 840 1363 or by making an email enquiry here.

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To find out more about how we can help you with your query, please contact us.