Short marriages- why do I have to wait for divorce?
No divorce for 12 months
David Platt (Coronation Street) recently discovered (from Imran who impressively appears to know everything about every law ever off the top of his head) that you cannot get divorced unless you have been married for 12 months or more. It seems a little unfair in the circumstances given his wife no longer knows who he is and doesn’t want to see him but why is this the case?
The legal answer is because paragraph 3 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 says so.
The reason for that is inevitably political. There has been much talk about “no fault” divorce for years now and the resistance appears to be that policy makers do not want to be seen to be making divorce “too easy” or undermining the sanctity of marriage.
I do not know for sure what the law makers were thinking when they wrote the Matrimonial Causes Act but I would assume that this prohibition falls into the same camp.
Whilst in some circumstances this may seem unfair, we are not alone as a country in imposing such restrictions and, in fact, there are countries with more onerous rules.
For example, in Ireland you cannot get a divorce until you have lived apart for 2 of the last 3 years. Up until last December this was 4 of the last 5 years meaning that you had to be married 5 years whether you liked it or not.
There are things you can do if you want to speed up the process including ensuring that the divorce application is prepared and agreed between the parties ahead of time so it can be submitted on the earliest date possible. You can also look to reach any financial agreement or agreement about children.
A financial agreement cannot be made legally binding until you get your divorce to decree nisi (the interim divorce order) which generally takes at least 3 to 4 months from the date you submit the application. In the meantime, you could consider a separation agreement or look to agree, finalise and sign a consent order ready to be submitted on the earliest possible date.
A word of caution
In practice I have seen a petition dated exactly 1 year after the marriage rejected by the court on the basis the full 12 month period had not expired. As lawyers we could debate whether this is technically correct but in practice it is worth waiting an extra day or so to avoid the delay of having papers returned to you to re-submit.
It is important regardless of how long you may have been married to take proper independent and specialist family law advice and it is worth pointing out, for example, that even if you separate after 2 months of marriage but lived together for 20years before that the court’s starting point would be to regard this as a marriage of 20 years+