The rules for divorce in Northern Ireland are very similar to those in England, Scotland and Wales however the most obvious difference is that a couple may not petition within the first 2 years of the marriage (unlike in England and Wales where it is 1 year and in Scotland there is no time limit). A petition for judicial separation may be lodged at the court at any time after the marriage. The initial court order is called a ‘decree nisi’ which is granted once the petitioner has proved the allegations however this does not terminate the marriage which requires the issue of the ‘decree absolute’ available, upon application, six weeks after the grant by the court of the decree nisi.
There is just one ground for divorce in Northern Ireland which is irretrievable breakdown of marriage proved by one or more of the following facts which also apply to proceedings for judicial separation :-
1. two years separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce
2. five years separation without the consent of the other spouse to divorce
3. unreasonable behaviour
5. desertion whereby the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a period of at least two years
If a couple cannot agree on financial arrangements after divorce or judicial separation the courts have wide discretionary powers to make orders in respect of finance, maintenance and property adjustments. There are no hard and fast rules regarding the division of property and assets however the court must take into account the present and future needs, resources and earning capacity of both husband and wife, their age, the length of their marriage and the contributions of each to the family finances. The courts are encouraged to affect a clean break whereby neither the husband nor the wife will claim maintenance or capital from the other in the future. If a clean break cannot be affected due to inadequate assets being available then maintenance can be awarded which may be for either an indefinite period or for a specified time after which there will be a clean break.
The legislation regarding maintenance for natural children, after divorce in Northern Ireland, is contained in the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 which outlines a formula to calculate the minimum level of child maintenance payable by the absent parent. The court can however, where justified by parental income, award a higher or lower figure upon application. In the case of other children not covered by this legislation an application for maintenance to the Child Support Agency will be necessary if the figures cannot be agreed by consent. In cases where the custodial parent is in receipt of certain state benefits the DSS requires the Child Support Agency to assess, collect and enforce maintenance payments for children.
Our nationwide network of specialist lawyers will give initial free advice on all matters relating to dissolution of marriage, separation, injunctions, finance and agreements and court orders relating to custody and access to children without further obligation. If after talking to us you decide not to take matters further you are under no obligation to do so and you will not be charged anything at all.