Divorce can be challenging for anyone, but there are particular issues which can impact women and mothers going through divorce in particular. Being prepared can make the whole divorce experience much smoother and less stressful, as well as help to ensure you get a better outcome for your future.
In this blog, we cover some key pieces of divorce advice for women and mothers that can make a real difference. For expert advice for women getting a divorce tailored to your circumstances, please get in touch with the team at Woolley & Co to speak to one of our experienced divorce lawyers.
What do women need to know about divorce?
Divorce does not need to be full of conflict
It is common to worry that getting divorced will be incredibly acrimonious, but the reality is that many divorces now involve very little conflict.
The divorce process has been made much more straightforward with the introduction of no fault divorce. This removes the need for one spouse to take the blame for the end of the marriage and also means your spouse cannot contest the divorce if they are unhappy about it.
Deciding how your finances should be divided and what arrangements should be made for any children can be relatively harmonious. This is because these matters can be decided voluntarily between the spouses through negotiation or mediation, rather than in court.
How the divorce process works
The divorce process has changed since the introduction of no fault divorce in April 2022. The steps in the process now are:
Step one – Apply for a divorce – you can do this individually in a ‘sole application’ or together with your spouse in a ‘joint application’.
Step two – The court ‘issues’ the application – this means the court is formally acknowledging that your application has been completed correctly and that your divorce can move ahead. If you are making a sole application, the court will send a copy of the divorce application to your spouse, who will have 14 days to respond.
Step three – Applying for the Conditional Order – 20 weeks after the court issues your divorce, you can apply for the Conditional Order (formerly called the ‘decree nisi’).
Step four – Applying for the Final Order – 6 weeks after the Conditional Order is issued, you can apply for the Final Order. This court order legally dissolves your marriage. Once you have the Final Order, your divorce is complete.
If you are planning to start a divorce application, we can provide tailored divorce legal advice for women to help.
How long divorce takes
Under the new law, divorce takes a minimum of 6 months. Making a financial settlement and arrangements for children can be achieved faster or take longer, depending on the situation.
Women tend to be more financially vulnerable in divorce
While women are now far more likely to keep their careers going even if they have children, the reality is that women, especially mothers do tend to have fewer of their own financial resources than men. There continues to be a significant gender pay gap, especially for people over 40, with the average divorced man having three times the pension wealth of the average divorced woman.
This is why it is so essential for women to get the best possible advice and support during divorce. With the right guidance, it is normally possible to negotiate a financial settlement that means your needs will be fully covered. This can often be negotiated with the help of your lawyer and finalised in a consent order.
If an agreement about the settlement cannot be reached, you may need a final decision from an external party – this might be from a arbitrator or Judge in the family court. An experienced family lawyer can assist with preparing your case and ensuring you have the best possible representation, so you can be confident of securing a division of assets that meets your current and future needs.
What are women entitled to in a divorce?
When it comes to dividing your finances, you may think everything you and your spouse own will be split 50:50 between you. Theoretically, this is the starting point for the division of assets, but in reality, you may end up with something different, depending on the circumstances.
In most cases, the financial side of divorce is resolved through negotiation between the separating spouses, often with the help of an experienced family solicitor. This means that what you receive will depend on what you can agree with your former partner.
It is essential to take early legal advice on women’s rights in divorce. A solicitor can then help you understand how the law approaches situations like your own and help with negotiating a fair settlement.
If you are unable to agree a financial settlement voluntarily, you may need to apply to a court for a Financial Order to decide how your assets should be separated. A court will look at various factors when deciding what is a fair division of assets, including:
- The ages of each spouse
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s current and expected future earning potential
- The needs of any children
- What each party contributed to the marriage (both financially and in other ways, e.g. child care)
- Your standard of living during the marriage
- Your ongoing living expenses
- All property and assets available (including pensions)
Should you need to rely on a court to deal with dividing your assets, you will need to consult a family lawyer with experience applying for Financial Orders. They can support you through making the application and ensure you have the best possible representation for any court proceedings, giving you the best chance of a fair outcome that meets your needs.
Who gets to stay in the home during separation?
There is often a default assumption that the woman will stay in the family home, especially if there are children. However, both spouses will normally have equal rights over their home, so you should not assume that this will be the case.
It will usually be the case that the spouses will agree between them who stays in the family home. If you have children, their wellbeing should be put first, and if you end up taking the matter to court, this is the approach the court will take.
If you have experienced domestic abuse in your marriage, you may be able to apply to a court for an injunction requiring your spouse to leave the family home. An experienced family lawyer will be able to help you with this application.
One really important point to understand is that you or your spouse moving out of the family home does not affect either of your rights towards the property when it comes to the division of finances.
Who will get custody of the children?
While people often use the term ‘custody’ when referring to what happens to children after divorce, it is not a term that is officially recognised and can create the wrong impression. As family lawyers, we tend to use the term ‘child arrangements’, and this is the language the legal system also uses.
Who children will live with and what contact they will have with each parent will depend on the situation and, crucially, what is in the best interests of your children. It is now normal for both parents to share care, with the children spending some time in the care of or living with each parent. Mother’s rights in divorce will depend on the situation, so you should always seek expert advice early in the process.
Ideally child arrangements should be agreed voluntarily between parents. This is the best approach as it helps to avoid conflict between the parents which can limit any potential emotional impact on the children.
However, if you cannot agree on child arrangements or this approach would not be appropriate, it may help to have a solicitor assist you with negotiations. You may also consider mediation with the support of an experienced family lawyer to help you reach agreement.
If no agreement can be reached, you can apply to a court for a Child Arrangements Order. This means a court will look at your circumstances and decide what the arrangements should be, with the court’s primary concern being what is in the children’s best interests.
A family lawyer will be able to help with specialist divorce advice for mothers, so you can be confident you are making the best choice for your family.
For more advice, please read our blog ‘Divorce tips for mums’.
Who should initiate the divorce?
If you are both residents in the UK, it no longer makes much difference who initiates the divorce. This is because England and Wales now have ‘no-fault’ divorce, so there is no need to assign blame as part of the divorce proceedings. Being the one who initiates the divorce will usually not give you any significant advantage and you can even make a joint application together with your spouse.
The only potential advantage to being the one making the application is that it can give you slightly more control over the timetable for the divorce. This is because, if your spouse initiates the divorce, it is their responsibility to apply for the necessary court order to finalise the divorce in the first instance. If they fail to do so for any reason, you would need to wait an additional 3 months before being able to do so yourself, so your divorce would take longer.
If you or your spouse lives outside the UK, then where divorce proceedings are initiated can make a significant difference, so in such a case, who starts the process may matter more. We strongly advise taking specialist legal advice if this applies to you. Our team specialises in divorce advice for women in the UK but also has strong expertise in international divorce.
How should women plan for a divorce?
Speak to a solicitor
It really is essential to speak to a specialist family lawyer before starting divorce proceedings. They will be able to give you clear advice on your rights, including around finances and children. A good solicitor can help you to fully understand all of the ways divorce will impact you and your family and then help you to plan appropriately.
Think about the costs involved
You should consider the financial implications of divorce, including your living expenses and the potential costs of the legal advice you might need. It is important to make sure you will have funds available to cover these costs.
Consider where you want to live
Do you want to stay in your family home, or are you ready to move on and have a fresh start? If you are planning to move out, where will you go? Do you have money available for rent or to buy another property? If you want your spouse to move out, are they likely to accept this, and where will they go?
It’s important to carefully consider your options and be realistic about issues such as whether you can afford to stay in the house e.g. would you be able to afford the mortgage and other costs?
How will you explain the situation to your children (if you have any)?
Divorce can be tough for children and may come as a surprise. Conversely, they may welcome the decision if they are aware there has been tension in the marriage. Getting a sense of what your children think and how they are likely to react can help you to make sure you break the news to them in a way that is going to be easiest for them to accept.
Consider relationship counselling
Even if you are sure divorce is the right option for you, relationship counselling can help to make the separation easier for your spouse to accept and help with managing the emotions a separation can throw up. It can also help you to maintain a positive relationship going forwards, which can be invaluable if you have children together.
How do I prepare to leave my husband?
Leaving a marriage is a big step, both in practical terms and emotionally. While every situation is different, key steps to prepare include:
- Think about the practicalities, including where you will live and how you will cover your day-to-day costs
- Get expert legal advice on your rights and options
- Think carefully about what you want to tell your husband, children and wider family and friends
For more advice, please read our blog ‘How to prepare and tell your partner you want a divorce’.
I can offer specialist legal advice to guide you through a quick and stress-free divorce process and provide tailored divorce advice for women, mothers and anyone else who needs our support.
Divorce and family lawyer, St Neots