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How does divorce work in Northern Ireland? Taking a closer look at matrimonial law

Our expert team answers your questions to help guide on divorce in Northern Ireland

How do you start the divorce process in Northern Ireland? The key facts

Divorce in Northern Ireland begins with lodging a petition to the relevant court, citing that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down and the reasons why.  If you lodge the petition, you are known as the petitioner, with the petition served on your spouse or civil partner, known as the respondent, who is then required to respond to your petition. 

There are two stages to the divorce: the decree nisi hearing and the application for the decree absolute. Northern Ireland still has a solemn process, in that the petitioner will attend court to adopt their evidence for the nisi hearing.

A divorce petition is based on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and evidenced by any of the following:

  • A separation has been in place for two years and the other spouse has consented to a divorce
  • Five years’ separation
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery

How to arrange child custody – should you reach an agreement ahead of your divorce?

If you have children under the aged of 18, you will be required to complete and lodge a form confirming the arrangements for the children with your divorce petition. It is better to have an agreed position, otherwise the court may not grant the divorce.

What legal proof do you require to get divorced in Northern Ireland?

You 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 abuse, drug abuse, financial or physical abuse, inappropriate relations with another person, etc.)

There are two non-fault based facts:

  •  A ‘two-year ground’, meaning a period of separation for two years or more and the other party consents to the divorce on that ground 
  •  A ‘five -year ground’, which is a period of separation of five years or more, where consent of the other party is not required.  

Do you have to try marriage counselling and mediation in Northern Ireland?

Attending mediation or counselling is a personal choice. Mediation can be an effective way of addressing ongoing issues that result from your separation, such as contact arrangements with children and/or matrimonial agreements for finances both in the short and longer term. It is important for you to seek advice should you wish to negotiate matrimonial finances or contact with your children. 

What essential information will your solicitor need to help you get divorced?

Your solicitor will require you to be forthcoming about the reasons why your marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. Divorce often attributes blame, and proofs will be required for any fault-based grounds cited as the reason for the breakdown. Basic information will also be required, including current addresses for all parties, marriage/civil partnership certificate, birth certificates for children of the marriage/civil partnership, employment details and more. 

The divorce process: do you have to personally appear in court?

This depends on the circumstances of your case. If you are the petitioner, you will be required to attend court in order to have your decree nisi issued. The respondent may or may not have to attend, depending on whether they have consented to the divorce, or if they are contesting it. 

How long does the divorce process take in Northern Ireland?

This depends on the particulars of your case and also the timetable of the court. Your solicitor will guide you through the process, step by step, once the circumstances are known and keep you up to date on its progress. 

The bottom line: how much is getting divorced likely to cost you?

Again, estimates depend on the particulars of your case. Once these are known, your solicitor will provide a costs estimate if your case is straightforward, or if not,  provide a guide as to the costing. There are three court fees for a standard divorce.  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 party at fault pay for the divorce and, if awarded by the court, you may recoup this from the other party. 

Get in touch

If you’re considering divorce and you’re looking for a friendly expert in family law please contact our family team today on 0800 840 1363 or make an email enquiry here.

Get in touch

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