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What to do after you receive divorce papers

Receiving divorce papers can be a very emotional experience as they signify that your marriage is ending. Sometimes, your spouse might even serve you the divorce papers without warning, leaving you blindsided and confused.

Despite your emotions, staying focused and taking the proper steps to protect your rights and interests is vital. If your spouse has just served you with divorce papers, here are four things you can do to prepare yourself.

Read the divorce papers

Putting the divorce papers on one side to ‘deal with later’ is understandable, but the first thing you should do is read them carefully and take the time to understand what they mean. The divorce papers contain important information about the proceedings and what the court expects from you.

You should also note the deadlines for responding to the divorce application. This is important so you can avoid missing important deadlines that can affect the divorce process.

Additionally, you should determine if your spouse is filing the divorce on their own or via a solicitor and if they have applied for a financial order. Your spouse’s representation and approach to reaching a financial agreement will significantly affect how the divorce will proceed.

Respond to the divorce application

After reading the divorce papers (known as the divorce application and the notice of proceedings), the next step is to respond by filing a response in court (known as the acknowledgement of service). The deadline to respond is 14 days of receiving the divorce papers. The court’s preferred way for you to respond to the divorce application is online.

If you can’t get online or don’t feel comfortable using the online service, you can request a paper response form by calling HM Courts and Tribunal Service on 0300 303 0642. This service operates Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm, but be ready for long 40-minute plus waiting times. The quietest times tend to be toward the end of the week in the afternoon.

For more information on how to respond to a divorce application using the paper and post method, read our article here.

Responding to the divorce application online

Responding to divorce papers online is very straightforward, even if it feels a bit daunting. In the document titled ‘notice of divorce proceedings’, you will find a section titled ‘What you need to do’.

It will tell you to go to https://www.apply-divorce.service.gov.uk/respondent and create an account. Enter your first and last name and email address to do this. In the notice of proceedings letter, you are given a 16-digit reference number (this is your divorce case number) and an access code. Enter these when requested.

You will be asked if you intend to dispute the divorce application. Regardless of whether you want a divorce, you can’t stop a divorce application under the new divorce laws introduced in April 2022. The only exception to this is if you believe the English courts don’t have jurisdiction to grant a divorce (read more on this below).

You can indicate that you intend to dispute the divorce, but be aware that you will be asked to provide reasons and evidence and may incur legal costs in the process.

What does jurisdiction mean?

Jurisdiction is the country where the divorce will be processed. A divorce can take place in the English courts if England or Wales is your or your spouse’s permanent home. If neither of you live in England or Wales, you can’t get divorced here. And if divorce proceedings are already taking place in another country, then the English courts may not have the jurisdiction to process your divorce.

What happens if you don’t respond to the divorce papers?

Failure to respond to the divorce papers will not stop the divorce from proceeding. All it will do is potentially delay the process and could end up costing you more money in legal fees. 

If you don’t respond to the divorce papers, the quickest and easiest way for your spouse to progress the divorce is to instruct a process server or bailiff. This means a bailiff will be sent to serve the papers on you. Once served, your spouse can continue the divorce even if you don’t respond to the bailiff’s papers. They can also ask the court to make you pay for the service.

Gather important information

Divorce only deals with the ending of your marriage. It does not deal with children or financial settlements. The court prefers couples to agree on childcare arrangements between themselves informally because the court process is very stressful for parents and children. A parenting plan is a useful way of reaching an agreement on caring for your children. You can find out more and download a free copy of a parenting plan here.

Whereas you want to avoid the court for childcare if you can, it is very wise to get a court-approved financial agreement if you want peace of mind. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to go to court.

consent order is a document that describes your financial settlement, for example, selling the former family home and splitting the proceeds or buying your spouse out. Once approved by a court, it is made legally binding, and the court will enforce it if your spouse tries to change their mind. It also gives you both a financial clean break from each other, meaning that neither of you can come after the other in the future.

You don’t need to attend court if you and your spouse are in agreement, and the starting point of reaching an agreement is finding out what marital assets you both have (property, savings, pensions and debts such as loans and credit cards) so you can begin to work out how to split them fairly. Read this article to learn about consent orders and how to reach an agreement over your divorce settlement.

Speak to friends and do your research

No one wants to think about or talk about divorce. I know, I’ve been there. But from personal experience, a problem shared really is a problem halved. Don’t bottle things up. Get it off your chest. Divorce is hard, but you can make it easier for yourself with the right support in place.

The other thing to do is do your research. Don’t leave decisions about your children and finances to your spouse. Even if your spouse is the most kind-spirited person in the world and our divorce is amicable, you must remember that they have a natural bias to make decisions that benefit them – we all do it. So make sure you know your rights and what you’re entitled to. We have lots of free resources in our knowledge hub, and if you want to talk to someone, you can call us on 0204 530 8101 or book a free consultation here. We are here to help.

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