An explanation of some common terms relating to divorce in Northern Ireland
Petitioner- Spouse applying for Divorce proceedings
Respondent-Other party to proceedings
Co-Respondent- Additional party to proceedings.(Only applicable when divorce is grounded on Respondent’s adultery)
The High Court and any designated County Court sitting as a Divorce County Court will have jurisdiction to entertain a divorce petition where:
(i) Either of the parties is domiciled in Northern Ireland when proceedings are commenced.
(ii) Either of the parties have been habitually resident in Northern Ireland for the 6 month period immediately preceding the divorce proceedings.
Whether divorce proceedings are issued in the High Court or the County Court will depend mainly on whether it is defended or whether there are financial aspects which require to be resolved.
Form of Consent
If you are intending to apply for divorce using the two year ground then this form will be forwarded to the Respondent requesting that he or she consents to a divorce being applied for. The Form of Consent also allows the Respondent the opportunity to indicate whether or not he or she will agree to paying half the costs of such proceedings.
Once the Form of Consent (where relevant) has been received by our office then the divorce petition will be drafted. The divorce petition will contain three main sections which will detail the following information;
Statement of Arrangements for Children (M4)
If there are any children of the family this procedure must be completed. The term “children” extends not only to step-children but also to children who are treated as members of the family.Details of all children under the age of 16 and for all children over the age of 16 who remain in full time education need to be included. The arrangements for each child of the family need to be specified such as with whom the children will reside, contact arrangements between the non-resident parent and each child, any relevant Court proceedings in relation to any child of the family, the care of the children during school holidays, maintenance payments received from the other party in respect of the child.Full details are required so that the Judge hearing the divorce case is satisfied that the arrangements are appropriate.
Notice of Proceedings (M5)
This document accompanies the Acknowledgement of Service document and is a guideline to assist the Respondent to complete the Acknowledgement of Service.
Acknowledgement of Service
This document must be completed by the Respondent to confirm that he or she has received the Divorce petition and accompanying documents. When the petition is fault based it gives the Respondent the opportunity to indicate whether or not he or she intends to defend such proceedings.In the event of the petition being grounded on 2 years by consent, this document must be completed by the Respondent otherwise the Divorce cannot proceed beyond this stage. Once the Respondent has completed the Acknowledgement of Service he or she must return it to the Matrimonial Office at the High Court within 14 days of receipt.If the Respondent fails to return this document to the court an application can be made to request that the divorce proceeds in any event as long as the court is satisfied that the Respondent has been served with papers.In certain exceptional circumstances an application can be made for service of the papers to be dispensed with.
Serving the Divorce petition and accompanying documents
Once the papers have been stamped and returned from the Matrimonial Office they are served upon the Respondent by way of recorded delivery or personal service.The Petitioner will be notified that same has been done by first class post.
Once the Respondent has returned the Acknowledgement of Service, the Matrimonial Office will forward same to our office in order that we may lodge a Certificate of Readiness notifying the court that the case is ready to be heard, or in the case of a defended divorce a Book of Pleadings must be lodged.The Book of Pleadings will be comprised of the above documents together with additional documents which are relevant to divorce proceedings such as the Marriage Certificate, children’s Birth Certificates, Legal Aid Certificate (if applicable) and any Court Orders mentioned in the Divorce Petition. The Book of Pleadings will then be forwarded to the Matrimonial Office in order that the divorce may be listed for hearing.
Service Deemed Good
In the event that the Acknowledgement of Service is not returned to the Matrimonial Office and we have attempted to serve the Petition and accompanying papers on the Respondent by alternative means yet have been unsuccessful then we can apply to the Court to have service of the petition deemed good.In basic terms this means that we are applying for leave from the Court to proceed with the Divorce without the completed Acknowledgement of Service. This will be done by Summons and Affidavit which is a document sworn by a Solicitor indicating what attempts have been made to serve the papers on the Respondent.The Affidavit will include vouched documentation of the attempts made to serve the papers on the Respondent.An application to deem service good involved additional fees as there is a court fee of £250 and this application will require a solicitor to attend court to explain to the Master why it is necessary.
In the event of the Respondent returning the Acknowledgement of Service indicating that he or she wishes to defend such proceedings then the Respondent will be given the opportunity to lodge their own petition and accompanying documents with the Court.This is known as a Replying Affidavit. Once same has been stamped by the Court it will be served upon the Petitioner who will also have to complete an Acknowledgement of Service.Once all relevant Acknowledgements of Service have been received by the Matrimonial Office, the parties will be able to lodge their Books of Pleading.
Notice of Hearing
Both Parties will be notified of the date of hearing. If the divorce is to be heard undefended then only the Petitioner will be required to attend on this date.
An application to the Court for ancillary relief is a request to the Court to resolve all financial and property issues.Ancillary Relief proceedings can be prolonged and complicated and involve a full disclosure of assets by both parties. As well as solicitors these proceedings will involve Counsel and may include forensic accountants, private investigators reports, etc.We will provide you on request with detailed notes on the procedures involved in ancillary relief cases.
At the hearing of your divorce, the Judge will confirm as to whether or not they are satisfied that the Petitioner has satisfied the grounds for divorce and will grant what is known as a Decree Nisi.The Decree Nisi is a document confirming that the divorce is in its final stages though not yet complete.
The Decree Absolute cannot be applied for until 6 weeks after the granting of the Decree Nisi and will normally be applied for by the Solicitors for the Petitioner.This period of time allows any party time to show why the divorce should not be finalised.The Decree Absolute is an important document confirming that the divorce is now complete and should be kept in a safe place.Once a Decree Absolute issues you are free to remarry.