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Settling out of Court: A Practical Guide to Divorce in NI

The breakup of a relationship is never an easy time

Divorcing can be a stressful and emotionally draining experience. It can also prove expensive- and unnecessarily exhausting if matters proceed to court.

While some divorces inevitably end up in court, more couples are choosing to settle out of court – as a more amicable, efficient and cost-effective alternative.

In this practical guide, Family Law Partner Ciara Brolly outlines the steps involved in settling out of court in Northern Ireland, and the elements you should consider if you decide to take this route.

Understanding the NI Legal Landscape

Before you can begin to negotiate an out-of-court divorce settlement, it is important to understand how the divorce laws in Northern Ireland differ from those in other parts of the UK;

  • You can only initiate a divorce in this jurisdiction after you have been married for two years.
  • Unlike in England, where a ‘no fault’ divorce law was recently introduced, the only grounds for divorce deemed legitimate by the NI legal system is that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”
  • Before you can divorce, you will need to evidence this in one of the following ways:
    • Unreasonable behaviour
    • Adultery
    • Two years’ separation with the consent of the other spouse
    • Desertion for two years
    • Five years’ separation
  • In terms of jurisdiction, to file for divorce in Northern Ireland, either you or your spouse must have lived here for at least one year immediately before filing the divorce petition. If both parties have lived in Northern Ireland for at least six months, either of you can petition.
  • Consulting with a family law solicitor can provide you with the most up-to-date information on the divorce process here.

Negotiation & Agreement

  • You may choose to settle your divorce out of court by engaging in a negotiation process between yourself and your partner, led and guided by your respective solicitors
  • This can involve discussions on the division of your assets, spousal maintenance and child arrangements. 
  • It’s crucial for both parties to be open to compromise and to approach negotiations with a focus on reaching agreements that are fair and practical.

We’ve reached an agreement – what are the next steps?

Once you have reached an agreement with your spouse, you still need to formalise it and make it binding in law. This requires two additional steps:

1. Preparation of a Consent Order

  • To move forward with your divorce, you will need a Consent Order.
  • This is a legal document that outlines the terms of your divorce settlement and, when approved by the court, becomes a binding agreement. 
  • It is important that you consult with a solicitor to draft the Consent Order, as this will ensure that it meets the legal requirements and accurately reflects the agreed-upon terms.

2. Court approval

  • Now that you have your Consent Order, the final stage to your out-of-court divorce settlement is to get this document officially approved by the court.
  • This is a procedural step to ensure that the agreement is in line with legal requirements. 
  • The court’s role is primarily to review the document and, if satisfied, grant the decree absolute and thereby finalise the divorce in the eyes of the law.

What are the benefits of settling divorce out of court?

  • It’s cost-effective: Court proceedings can be expensive. Settling out of court often results in lower legal fees.
  • You get a faster resolution: Court cases can be time-consuming. Settling out of court generally leads to a quicker resolution.
  • You incur less stress: The collaborative, mediation-based and negotiation-based process tends to be less adversarial, reducing emotional stress for both you and your partner.

Key Takeaways 

  • Navigating a divorce in Northern Ireland can be a smoother, less stressful process when opting for an out-of-court settlement.
  • Whether you opt for negotiation or not, the goal is to reach agreements that are fair and legally binding.
  • Seeking the guidance of experienced family law solicitors will ensure you receive invaluable support throughout this challenging journey, helping you make informed decisions and move forward with confidence.

Get in Touch

If you are in the early stages of a relationship breakdown and / or need help with navigating divorce in Northern Ireland, get in touch with Ciara and our award-winning legal team.

We help couples and families navigate the difficulties of separation with practical, compassionate advice, so you can both move on in a healthy and constructive manner. 

Our supportive, professional team offer a holistic approach, careful planning and diplomatic communications, so you find the best solution.

Call us on 028 9022 7808 or make an online enquiry today.

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