Examining divorce and what it means in Northern Ireland
Each year in Northern Ireland there are about 2,500 divorces and they are brought on five different grounds. But, what does that mean?
Divorce relates to the legal marital status of a couple and only a judge can dissolve a marriage by divorce. The petitioning party (or petitioner) is the party presenting the divorce petition, who gives evidence before the County Court or the High Court, to achieve a divorce. The petitioner must satisfy one of the five grounds.
What are the grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland?
There are currently five grounds for divorce in this jurisdiction:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for two years and each party consents to a divorce
- Separation for five years and the petitioner (the moving party in the case) does not require the consent of the other party.
The division of the matrimonial assets (the parties’ finances) may be dealt with by the lawyers for the parties without recourse to the court or, if the parties are unable to resolve their finances, ancillary relief proceedings may be issued and a Judge will decide the division of the assets and/or liabilities.
In my experience, a petitioner may be emotionally and mentally affected by the divorce process and, as a practitioner, one must always remember that this is as big a deal for that person as it was when they got married, with the added stress of the loss of a relationship.
It has to be remembered that the Judge is not simply there to rubber stamp the paperwork; the Judge must be satisfied on the basis of the legal documents there is a ground for divorce and the petitioner satisfies that ground; and, if there are children of the marriage, the arrangements for the children are satisfactory.
Our personable approach to divorce
It is my job as a lawyer in bringing the petitioner on a journey, from the day I take instructions to the day I send my client a copy of the decree absolute issued by the court to signify the end of the marriage, to never forget that I am dealing with a person who at one time was so in love with the person they are now divorcing that the impact is immense and often quite devastating.
There are a number of stressors which need to be taken into account and these may include the stress of emotional detachment; the prospect of how divorce may affect one financially; and, the loss of no longer seeing one’s children on a daily basis as they may go between households of the divorcing couple. Therefore, one must tread carefully and sensitively.
I find that if a collaborative approach is taken between the parties this is hugely beneficial in reducing the negative effect of divorce on the parties and the children of the family.
Divorce is not the forum for getting “one over” the other party.
The impact of a contentious divorce is long-lasting, not just as a consequence of the financial loss, but also as a result of the stress of ongoing litigation at a time when it the parties need to be able to rebuild their lives to suit their changed circumstances.