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How To Get A Divorce in Northern Ireland

Welcome to LightLaw’s comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about getting a divorce in Northern Ireland.

If you’re thinking about bringing your marriage to an end, this guide will tell you exactly what you need to do.


Read this Guide to find out:

  • How the entire divorce process works, from start to finish

  • How to avoid common problems that can make your divorce take longer and be more expensive

  • How to know if you need a divorce solicitor (or if you can do a DIY Divorce)

  • And how to ensure that your financial future is protected

    Let’s get started…


Chapter 1

Divorce: Should You

Definitely Get One?


Chapter 2

Divorce Solicitor Or DIY:  

Which Is Best?


Chapter 3

How Much Is My

Divorce Going To Cost?


Chapter 4

Ending Your Marriage:

Some Practical Questions


Chapter 5

What Are The Grounds 

For Divorce in NI?


Chapter 6

How To Draft Your 

Divorce Petition


Chapter 7

What Happens At

A Divorce Court Hearing?

Chapter 8


For Finances & Children


Chapter 9

Other Important Info

About Divorce


Disclaimer: Every marriage is different, as is every divorce.  This guide outlines general topics you should be thinking about when considering whether to legally end your marriage. But it is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact a Northern Ireland divorce solicitor for advice on your specific circumstances.

1. Is It Really The Best Option For You?

Divorce is emotionally draining, expensive and permanent. Before starting the divorce process, you should be 100% sure that it is the best choice for you and your family. At the very least, you should consider all your options before going ahead with divorce.

Divorce shouldn’t be the first thing you think of when a relationship is in trouble.

When it comes to something as serious as permanently ending a marriage (or civil partnership), you owe it to yourself and your family to make sure that you have at least considered all your options. 

We all experience financial problems, issues with children, trouble at work, or just the usual stresses of the busy modern lives that we now lead. 

It’s not surprising that relationships come under pressure.

Of course, marriages often experience so much tension that they don’t survive. 

But in other cases, difficult patches pass by and the relationship can flourish again. 

Getting married is not something to take likely, and neither is divorce. 

Divorce can be messy, stressful and seriously expensive. 

And 9 times out of 10, it takes much longer than you think it will. 

We’ll get into the details of how to get a divorce in Northern Ireland below, but before we do, we think it’s responsible to remind you of things you can try first, before you take the permanent option that divorce is.

The following can be extremely helpful: 

If you’re sure that your marriage has completely broken down, and there is no chance of you and your partner getting back together, only then should you move forward with the process of legally terminating your marriage.

2. How To Approach The Divorce Process For The Best Results

Once you have decided that a complete dissolution of your marriage is what you need, you should approach the process in a calm and measured way.

During divorces, couples often try to get revenge on each other, “win” arguments, or settle old scores.

Getting one over on your ex might feel good in the short term, but the pleasure doesn’t last long. 

Tit-for-tat arguments can quickly descend into a complete breakdown in communications, which rarely helps you get what you want. 

If you fall into the trap of letting the emotions cloud your judgement, it does nothing but increase:

  • the time it takes you to actually get the divorce
  • the stress the divorce causes you and the rest of your family
  • how much money the divorce ends up costing

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the following statement:

Once you’ve decided that divorce is the best option to take, resolve to approach it in a calm, mature and pragmatic way.

It’s worth bearing the following saying in mind: “You might not have had a great marriage, but you can have a good divorce.” 

Approach your divorce in that frame of mind, and you’ll find that everything is quicker, less stressful, less expensive, and ultimately allows you to move smoothly into the next phase of your life.

3. What Are The Goals Of A “Good” Divorce?

Divorce has 3 main goals: to legally end the marriage (so the parties can move on), to divide marital assets and to make arrangements for children.

Divorce has three main goals:


1. Ending Your Marriage

If your marriage has broken down and there is no chance of you getting back together, divorce legally ends it. You can move on as a single person, and are free to remarry if you want to. 


2. Dividing Assets

If you and your partner have assets from your time together (money, property, pensions, etc.), you can decide how everything is going to be divided between you in a fair way.


 3. Arrangements For Children 

If you have children from the marriage, decisions can be made about things like custody, support, maintenance, decision-making, contact, and so on.

If you are in the early stages of thinking about your divorce, these are the issues that you should be thinking carefully about now


Going into a divorce process, you will need to have a plan about what you want to happen with your finances and children, and these are inevitably the areas that cause the most tension.

So it makes sense to give them serious thought right from the beginning.

3. What About Civil Partnerships?

The process of ending a civil partnership is called “dissolution”. The dissolution process follows a very similar path to that of divorce.

The law on civil partnerships in Northern Ireland gives civil partners most of the same rights as married people. 

If a civil partnership breaks down, issues such as dividing property, arranging maintenance and dividing pensions are handled in much the same way as they are in divorces. 

Some of the terminology used for civil partnerships is different (and we will highlight some of those differences below) but for the most part, the process is quite similar.

1. Can I Get A DIY Divorce In Northern Ireland?

You can do a “do it yourself” divorce in Northern Ireland. But the process for DIY divorces is the same as it is for “normal divorces”. If you are applying for a divorce yourself, you will still have to fill out the same forms and you will also have to attend a divorce court hearing.

Going through the divorce process without the help of a specialist divorce solicitor is sometimes known as a “DIY divorce” (i.e. Do-It-Yourself). 

The main advantage of DIY divorces is that they can be much cheaper than employing a divorce solicitor to look after everything for you. 

A DIY Divorce may be a sensible option for you if:

  • you are on reasonably good terms with your ex-partner (i.e. you both agree to getting the divorce)
  • your combined finances are straightforward
  • you are in broad agreement about the arrangements for children (if you have any)
  • and you are in broad agreement about how the divorce should proceed

 The disadvantage of DIY divorces is that it is easy to make mistakes during the divorce process, and often those mistakes can end up costing you a lot of money. 

 A DIY Divorce may not be a sensible option for you if:

  • you and your partner have significant shared assets (property, shares, pensions, etc.)
  • you disagree with your partner about children (custody, maintenance payments, etc.)
  • if you disagree with how the divorce should proceed in general (your partner objects to getting divorced at all)

 If any of the above describe your situation, you should seriously consider getting some advice from a divorce solicitor. 

 When you look at their fees upfront, yes, solicitors will seem expensive. 

 But mistakes during the divorce process can be very costly too. 

 Overall, if you can afford it, paying for the services of a good divorce solicitor tends to be money well spent.

 A divorce solicitor will charge you legal fees, but in return, they will make sure that your rights are protected and that any agreement that you reach with your partner is fair and legally binding.

Plus they’ll look after all the paperwork and attend court with you. 

But if you’re sure you want to proceed with a DIY divorce, there are places where you can ask questions if you run into difficulties: 

  • Also, when it comes to filling out the divorce forms, you can arrange an interview with the Matrimonial OfficeThe staff there can check that you have filled in your forms correctly (though they cannot offer legal advice). There is a small fee for this service (£59 at the time of writing).

In summary, yes, you can do a DIY Divorce in Northern Ireland. But it’s not a simple process and if you run into any problems, you should always reach out for advice. 

 In the long run, it can be a lot cheaper to get good advice at the outset, rather than making costly mistakes and trying to correct them at some point further down the line.

2. Can I Get A Quick Divorce?

Divorce is a legal procedure that must follow a set process. Even a “quick” DIY Divorce in Northern Ireland could take more than 6 months, from start to finish. 

In an ideal world, a divorce shouldn’t need to take any longer than a few weeks.

But in reality, lots of different factors almost always arise during the divorce process, and which cause inevitable delays. 

These include:

  • disagreements between the divorcing spouses
  • spouses (or their solicitors) not responding to requests for information
  • one spouse simply not cooperating at all, or being in denial
  • the fact that the court system moves very slowly (even when it’s working well)
  • various other unforeseen issues that always tend to crop up…

Many of these factors are outside your control, so it’s frustrating when they cause delays to the process.

Out of all the issues that cause delay though, the worst ones tend to be when former spouses still disagree about vital issues (like finances and children).
So, to answer the question “can I get a quick divorce” – well, if you can reach an agreement with your former partner on issues surrounding money, children, assets, etc, – then yes, the divorce process should be relatively smooth and quick for you. 

But if you both still disagree on key issues, the answer is more likely to be no. You must expect that the divorce process will take a bit longer, while your differences are being resolved.

3. Can I Get An Online Divorce In NI?

Unlike England, Wales and Scotland, online divorce is not available in Northern Ireland. Beware of any companies advertising online divorces – find out exactly what you are getting before paying over any money. 

If you are researching information about divorce, you’ll come across companies claiming that they can provide cheap, quick divorces online. 

Many of these companies serve customers from mainland UK, where the court systems are different. 

In Northern Ireland, there is no government portal or website where you can complete your divorce. 

In addition to this, a person who is applying for a divorce in Northern Ireland still has to make an appearance at court (this is known as a Decree Nisi hearing, which we’ll talk about more below). 

Also beware of companies advertising divorces for very cheap fees (e.g. £49). 

Often, all you get for this are the forms that you have to fill in (you can find the Northern Ireland divorce forms for free here). 

You’ll get no legal advice specific to your situation, and you will still have the pay the divorce court fees that everyone has to pay.

So if you are tempted by low-price divorce offers online, just be sure to research them thoroughly – and find out exactly what you are getting for your money before committing to anything.

4. How Do I Pick The Best Divorce Solicitor For My Case?

The best divorce solicitor will be one that has specialist knowledge in divorce law in Northern Ireland, will be someone you trust and have confidence in, and will be someone that you feel comfortable talking to.  

We said in a previous section that if you and your spouse don’t agree about how things during your divorce should be managed (children, money, etc), it is a good idea to get advice from a divorce solicitor.

More often than not, divorce is a stressful and emotional experience. So your divorce solicitor must be someone that you are comfortable with, you trust and can confide in.

And of course, it goes without saying that they should be a specialist in divorce law and procedure in Northern Ireland.  

It’s quite possible that you have to meet with a number of divorce solicitors before you choose which one is best for you and your case.

It’s also possible that the best solicitor for you is not necessarily one you already know or is based locally.

(In fact, due to the sensitive nature of divorce proceedings, sometimes people prefer to instruct a solicitor that they don’t know – it keeps things private).

Before you meet the solicitor for the first time, think about a list of questions that you will want them to answer.

This will help you assess if they are the person you want to represent you at this sensitive and difficult time.

Here are some ideas of things you could ask:

  • how long have you been practising divorce law?
  • who exactly will be dealing with my divorce? Will it be just you or will other people be involved? Are they experienced, qualified solicitors? Can I meet them?
  • how often will you update me on the progress of my divorce Will it be by phone, email or letter?
  • how quickly do you respond to phone calls or emails? (Remember: the most common complaint made against solicitors is nothing to do with a lack of knowledge or expertise. It’s lack of communication.)
  • do you have other divorce clients that you can speak to? 
  • do you personally review all documents relating to my divorce?
  • will a barrister be needed in my case? When will they be instructed? 
  • how much will my divorce cost me in total? When do you send me the bill and when do I have to pay it?
  • can you confirm that I’m not entitled to any other sources of financial help (e.g. legal aid, etc.)
  • what other expenses will there be and how much are they? (e.g. court fees, etc)
  • how long will the divorce process take? What factors could make ist take longer than anticipated? 

If you ask the above questions, and any others that come to mind during your consultation, you will get a good idea if the solicitor is someone you can have confidence in, and someone who would like to have fighting your corner. 

 Divorce is difficult enough – you will have plenty to deal with as you go through it – you don’t want to be worrying about your solicitor on top of everything else! 

 So if you have reservations about the first solicitor you meet with, don’t be afraid to keep making appointments until you find one that you like and have confidence in.

1. How Much Does It Cost To Get A Divorce In Northern Ireland?

No. There is no requirement to hire a solicitor when making a personal injury claim. You can represent yourself in settlement negotiations and in court. But – representing yourself is a big task. So carefully consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

Getting a divorce in Northern Ireland isn’t cheap.

There are two types of costs you will have to think about:


  • Court Fees – these are fees that you have to pay to the courts to have them process your divorce application. These fees are set – and in most circumstances there is no way of avoiding them (if you are on low income, the fees could be waived, but only in rare circumstances – more information here)
  • Professional Fees – these are the fees that you pay to solicitors, barristers, accountants, or any other people that help you with your claim. These fees can vary, depending on who is doing the work, the complexity of the work, and how long it takes.

So, let’s talk some numbers:

  • the court fees alone are a minimum of £622
  • if your divorce takes place in the High Court, the minimum court fees will be more again, at least £681 (we’ll talk more about High Court/County Court divorces below)
  • if you hire a divorce solicitor/barrister, you will have to add their bills to the court fees
  • if you need to ask the court to make a ruling about finances (ancillary relief), you will have further court fees to pay, plus additional legal costs for your solicitor/barrister. 

The biggest driver of cost in divorces is when two parties are fighting about how to divide assets and responsibilities. 

If you and your former partner don’t agree on finances, issues with children, debts – you will likely need to hire solicitors to help you sort them out. 

Depending on the complexity of the situation, sometimes people also need the help of barristers and/or accountants. 

None of these professional come cheap – and the bills can very quickly add up. 

Divorce solicitors in Northern Ireland are usually happy to give you an up-front quote/estimate for how much your divorce will cost before starting work. 

If you want to keep costs down, do your best to find agreement with your partner on as many issues as possible. 

This is easier said than done, but if you can achieve it, you will save you a lot of money. 

So to answer the question – how much does a divorce cost – the minimum you will need to pay will be in the region of £622. So if you could arrange to split that with your partner, it would be just over £300 each. 

If you engage solicitors, the average cost of a divorce in Northern Ireland is more likely to be in the region of £2,000 (or £1,000 each).

2. What Are The Court Fees For A Divorce In Northern Ireland?

There are fees for lodging the divorce petition, setting down the case for hearing, applying for your Decree Nisi and applying for your Decree Absolute.

You can view the court fees for each of the stages in the divorce in the table below:

High CourtCounty Court
Lodging a Petition£237£237
Setting Down A Case For Hearing£355£296
Application to Make Decree Nisi Absolute£89£89

3. Who Pays For The Divorce?

The person requesting the divorce (the “Petitioner”) usually pays to start proceedings. During the divorce negotiations, you can decide how the costs should be shared, if at all. In many cases, divorcing spouses agree to split the cost of divorce between them.

There is no simple rule that decides who pays for a divorce. 

It depends on various factors, some of which include things like: 

  • who starts the divorce proceedings (who petitions)
  • how much money you both have
  • whether the divorce is contested or not
  • whether the ground for divorce is fault-based or non-fault-based

 For non-fault based divorces – e.g. 2 years separation with consent – it is not unusual for spouses to split the fees (we’ll talk about fault-based/non-fault based divorce grounds later). 

 If your ground for divorce is fault-based (e.g. your partner has committed adultery), you are more likely to be awarded costs. But for this to be successful, you will need to be able to prove that the adultery took place (which isn’t always straightforward). 

 Sometimes a spouse who has received a divorce petition will make a tactical move – they will agree to consent to the divorce, but only if the petitioner pays for it

 If an agreement can’t be reached with your former spouse about who is going to pay, it’s possible to ask the court to rule on costs (but you have no guarantees about what the court will decide).

Whether you are the person who is applying for the divorce, or you are the person who is on the receiving end of one, you should always be mindful of how much it is going to cost you. 

It’s not unheard of for people to go through a whole divorce thinking that the other person is paying for everything – only to get a shock when a large bill comes through the letterbox!

And by the time this happens, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. 

So be sure to nail down the issue of costs early on. 

Always find out how much things are going to cost, and crucially, who’s paying.

1. The Two Main Parts Of The Divorce Process You Need To Be Aware Of

Divorces consist of two main parts: (1) the “legal” divorce process and (2) the “negotiation” part. It’s very important that you don’t get caught up in one part, at the the expense of the other. You have to focus on both. 

Here are the two processes that form part of any divorce:

  • The “Legal” Divorce Process 

Firstly, there is the court procedure that legally terminates your marriage. This consists of compiling and filing the correct paperwork with the courts, a process which ends with a judge making a legal order that your marriage can be ended (Decree Nisi).

  • The “Negotiation” Process 

Secondly, there is the negotiation with your spouse about how to actually separate your lives again, in practical terms. This could include discussions about everything from how to fairly split joint savings accounts to who does the school run on a Tuesday afternoon.

Just because you might not have actually started the legal divorce process, does not mean that you should not think about the practical things you and your partner need to agree on to separate your lives.

(Likewise, you shouldn’t focus all of your attention negotiating the practical matters, while ignoring the legal process that you will need to complete properly get the divorce in the first place.)

If you have given thought to these issues in advance, you will be better equipped to deal with them when they arise.  

2. Three Of The Most Pressing Matters You Should Be Thinking About Now

The key stumbling blocks in most divorces surround the areas of arrangements for children, what to do with the marital home, and financial settlements. If you run into issues during your divorce, they are likely to fall into one of these three areas.  

If you have given thought to these issues in advance, you will be better equipped to deal with them when they arise as part of the negotiation part of the divorce. 

Here are some of the common things you need to consider:

What happens to the children (if there are any)?

  • who will they live with? 
  • when will they visit the other parent, how long will they stay, who will do the picking up, etc?
  • how will key upbringing decisions be made (schooling, religion, etc)?

What happens to the matrimonial house? 

  • will the matrimonial home need to be sold or can you afford to keep it? 
  • will one spouse be able to buy out the other’s share?
  • what will happen to the mortgage?

What about money?

  • how will the finances be split? (e.g. any joint savings accounts, pensions, etc.)
  • what about cars/hire purchases/other liabilities? 
  • will one party need to pay child/spousal maintenance?


Remember, many of these issues could have very clear answers in your mind, but you should anticipate how your ex would react to your suggestions. 

It’s very easy to say: “this is how it is going to be, and my word is final” but that won’t get you very far in a negotiation. 

Your ex is far more likely to be open to compromise if you approach the negotiations in a constructive and positive way. 

Ultimately, however you approach these negotiations, they always get resolved in one of two ways:

  • The first way is for you and your spouse to come to a voluntary agreement about how things are going to work. 

Also known as a Matrimonial Agreement, this can set out how you both can separate your lives in a reasonable and practical way. 

You can read about Matrimonial Agreements in greater depth here. 

  • The second way is to issue court proceedings (e.g. ancillary relief) and to ask a judge to decide on these issues. 

You can read more about ancillary relief proceedings here.

The first option, the Matrimonial Agreement, is the most practical, cost-effective and sustainable way to solve these issues. 

Even if you and your spouse cannot agree on everything, you should do your best to agree on as much as you can, before even considering referring the matter to the courts.

Asking the courts to make these decisions for you can be risky

Court proceedings can be hugely expensive, they can drag on for months (or years), they take a huge emotional toll on everyone – and in the end, there is no guarantee that a judge will give you what you want (and the judge’s decision is final).

So, in line with what we have talked about already, once you have made the decision to get a divorce, think about these issues in a calm, unemotional and pragmatic way – insofar as is possible. 

That’s the approach that will serve you best.

1. What Are The Grounds For Divorce In Northern Ireland?

The main ground for divorce in Northern Ireland is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down and that there is no chance of you and your partner getting back together.

In Northern Ireland divorce law, there is one main “ground” for divorce.

It is as follows:

Your marriage has broken down irretrievably and there is no prospect of you and your partner getting back together.

The purpose of your divorce application is to prove to the court that the above statement is true.

If the court is satisfied* that this is true – i.e. your marriage is over and you aren’t getting back together – it can grant you a divorce. 

*The standard of proof required is on the balance of probabilities.

You can prove this main ground of divorce by choosing from 5 different “facts” (these facts are also sometimes referred to as “grounds” too). 

You can use more than one fact on your divorce petition (but you should always have one strong one that you can rely on at the court hearing). 

Here’s a list of them:

  1. Adultery (fault)
  2. Unreasonable behaviour (fault)
  3. Desertion (fault)
  4. Two years’ separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce (no-fault)
  5. Five years’ separation (no-fault) 

(The facts for dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as above, with the exception of adultery.)

The first three facts (adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion are “fault-based”. 

The last two facts (two year’s separation with consent, and 5 year’s separation without consent) are “no-fault based”. 

A “fault-based” fact means that someone is to “blame” for the behaviour that led to the divorce – i.e. it’s someone’s fault. 

For example, if a partner was having an affair, and that led to the breakdown of the marriage, that would mean that they were at fault. So adultery is a “fault-based” fact. 

A “non fault-based” fact means that nobody is to blame. Sometimes people just grow apart and marriages can break down with neither partner necessarily being at fault. 

For example, if a couple are experiencing difficulties in their marriage and decide to start living apart, that’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. So living apart for two years (with consent) is a a “non-fault based” fact. 

We’ll look at each fact in more detail below, but before we do, a quick warning: when you are making your divorce application, it’s important to pick the correct facts that suit your individual circumstances best.  

Some facts are harder than others to prove, some facts take longer than others to prove, some have costs implications (important if you want your partner to pay the costs of the divorce). You can find a more detailed discussion of which divorce ground to use below.

If you are unsure about which facts to use, you should contact an experienced Northern Ireland divorce solicitor for advice. 

With that said, let’s look at each fact in turn:

  • Adultery (Fault Based) 

You can use the ground of Adultery if your husband or wife has had a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex, and because of that, your relationship has broken down. 

Adultery can be a straightforward ground to use if your partner admits that they had a sexual relationship with someone else.  

It becomes more problematic if they deny it, because you will have to show evidence to prove that the relationship actually occurred (which might be difficult to come by). 

It’s also important to note that the adultery has to result in you not being able to live with your partner. If you continue to live with your partner for a significant period of time after the act of adultery, you may not be able to use it as a ground in your divorce application. 

The time limit is 6 months (Art 4.1) – so if you are still living with your spouse 6 months after the adultery took place, you may have to rely on another ground in your divorce application.

Common factors that are used to prove adultery are a simple admission by your spouse, cohabiting with a new partner, birth of a child, etc. 

If you know the names of the people that your partner has committed adultery with, they should be named on the divorce petition. 

  • Unreasonable Behaviour (Fault Based)

The ground of Unreasonable Behaviour can be used to cover a wide range of topics, but the overall principle is that the person’s poor behaviour means that you cannot be expected to live with them. 

Of the three “fault-based” grounds, unreasonable behaviour is the most popular among people getting divorced. 

Common examples of Unreasonable Behaviour include:  

  • domestic abuse
  • verbal/psychological abuse
  • debt/financial recklessness
  • excessive drinking/drugs

If you want to use the Unreasonable Behaviour fact, bear in mind that it is acceptable to live with the spouse for up to 6 months after the last instance of the unreasonable behaviour that prompted you to apply to divorce (the straw that broke the camel’s back, perhaps you could say).

But if you continue to live with them for longer than that, you run the risk of appearing to condone the behaviour (and the longer you live with them, the harder unreasonable behaviour is to prove (Article 4(3)). 

Continuing to live together for more than 6 months after is not fatal to getting your divorce, but the court will take it into account. 

  • Desertion (Fault Based)

The divorce ground of Desertion occurs when your spouse has left you, without giving a reason or prior agreement, for a period of over 2 years. 

Desertion is the fact for divorce that is used the least in Northern Ireland. 

It is a fault-based ground, so the court must be satisfied that your spouse intended to desert you. 

This can be very difficult to prove, and for this reason, Desertion as a ground for divorce is rarely used.  

  • Living Apart for Two Years (With Consent)

The Living Apart For Two Years ground is self-explanatory – you and your partner haven’t lived together for more than two years, and you both are in agreement that the marriage should be legally ended. 

Living Apart for Two Years (with Consent) is the most popular ground for divorce used by couples in Northern Ireland. 

This is a non-fault based ground for divorce, meaning that the divorce isn’t “blamed” on either partner. 

Rather than pointing the finger, this fact is more an acceptance that the marriage is not working and has simply come to an end. 

So if you and your partner have lived apart for more than two years, and both of you agree to the divorce, the court will usually accept this as proof that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. 

Bear in mind that you can have lived together during the two year period, but it can’t be for more than six months in total. 

There are situations where you may be living in the same house as your ex-partner, but sleeping in separate rooms, not spending time with each other, etc. This would not necessarily invalidate the two year rule, providing that you were, in essence, living separate lives.  

Most couples, who rely on this ground in their divorce, share the cost of the divorce between them.  

  • Living Apart for Five Years (without Consent)

If you and your partner haven’t lived together for more than 5 years, you can use this as a ground for your divorce. You don’t need your partner’s agreement.

Living apart for 5 years is the second most-used ground for divorce in Northern Ireland. 

This is a non-fault based divorce, it doesn’t require consent, and it is more difficult for your partner to dispute or object to your divorce application. 

The downside of course is that 5 years is a long time to wait, so it is not an attractive ground for people who want to move on from the relationship more quickly (and perhaps want to remarry).

2. Which Ground For Divorce Should I Use?

You should pick the grounds you use for your divorce carefully. Different grounds require you to prove different things. Some take longer than others. Also, whether the ground for divorce used is fault or non-fault based can have an impact on who pays for the costs of the divorce.

The best ground to use in your divorce application will depend on your circumstances. 

 For example, if you want to move on from the marriage as quickly as possible, the two year separation may not be suitable for you. 

The two year period only starts running when you start to live apart. And for some people who want to move on quickly, this can be a long time to wait. 

Another example might be if one spouse is financially dependent on the other and he/she has stopped this support. 

The petitioner may not be able to wait two years before getting the divorce finalised – he/she might need to move to the ancillary relief part of proceedings as quickly as possible. 

In such a case, unreasonable behaviour or adultery (if they occurred, obviously) could be better grounds to use (because you won’t have to wait for the two year period to expire). 

But the disadvantage of these grounds is that you need to prove that your partner was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. 

Regardless of what happened, this can quickly add a lot of toxicity into proceedings, and quite often it is very difficult to prove adultery, and so on.

Choosing the best ground for your divorce is an area where getting advice from a solicitor is a good idea. 

They can help you avoid mistakes that might have an impact at a later point during your divorce application process.

3. What’s The Difference Between A “Contested” And A “Non-Contested” Divorce?

A non-contested divorce is when both partners agree to it – a contested divorce is when one person wants a divorce but the other doesn’t. If your divorce is contested, you will need to have a hearing in front of a judge, who will decide if your divorce can be granted or not.

Divorces aren’t granted automatically if you apply for one.

If you want a divorce, but your partner doesn’t, they have the option to contest it. 

A partner could object to a divorce for a number of reasons.

Common ones include:

  • They simply don’t accept the marriage is over
  • They might object to divorce for religious reasons
  • They might object to the divorce ground being cited
  • They might want to (or be able to) pay for the costs of the divorce
  • On rare occasions, some people just want to make things difficult for their former partner (out of spite or any number of other reasons).

Contested divorces have to go in front of a judge in court, who will listen to evidence from both parties, and decide whether the criteria for a divorce has been met. 

Due to increased legal fees and court fees, contested divorces can become very expensive, very quickly. 

But sometimes there is no other option. For example, if a spouse is unwilling to enter into serious negotiations regarding finances or children after a marriage has broken down, the other spouse may be forced to start the divorce application without their agreement. 

In most cases though, if it is at all possible, it is best that any divorce applications are made with the agreement of both partners.

This makes it quicker, cheaper and less stressful for everyone.

4. Where Can I Find The Divorce Law For Northern Ireland?

The main sources of divorce law are three pieces of legislation which you can find below, together with relevant EC Council Regulations and of course, any precedents set by the courts in previous cases.

If you would like to do more research on the law on divorce in Northern Ireland, you can find the three main pieces of legislation below:

The law on divorce in Northern Ireland has also been influenced by European law too, although the effects of Brexit will likely reduce this over the coming years.

1. How To Draft Your Divorce Petition

The first formal step in getting a divorce is to complete a document that’s known as a Divorce Petition. This sets out the details that the Judge needs to see in order to consider your divorce application.

To start the divorce process you need to do three things:

  1. Complete a Divorce Petition 
  2. Gather together any supporting documents you need
  3. Lodge everything at the Matrimonial Office
  4. Pay the required fee

 Let’s look at each of the steps in turn. 

1. Complete The Divorce Petition

Compiling a divorce petition itself is not a simple task, and it’s easy to make mistakes. 

Because errors made on the petition can cause further delays and expense at a later stage, many people choose to ask a divorce solicitor to help them draft it.

You can find copies of the divorce petition forms here. You can also check out the original versions of the forms in the legislation

Tip: If you would prefer to complete the documents without using a divorce solicitor, but are worried about making mistakes, you can arrange to have an interview with staff in the Matrimonial Office (contact details here). 

 Unlike a divorce solicitor, Matrimonial Office staff cannot provide legal advice. But they can advise you on whether your forms are filled out correctly. You can also find other guidance on completing the forms correctly here

If you intend to fill out your divorce petition yourself, Appendix 2 of The Family Proceedings Rules (Northern Ireland) 1996 provides a useful list of what it needs to contain in order to be valid. 

 Because the judge uses your petition to decide whether or not to grant your divorce, it’s very important that it is filled out in full

Make sure that the petition states that:

(a) your marriage has broken down irretrievably and 

(b) specifies the fact your are using to prove this (Adultery, Unreasonable Behaviour, etc).

If you suspect that you might need the court’s help in coming to a financial settlement (known as “ancillary relief”) or to decide on childcare arrangements, you should say so in the “Prayer” section of the Petition. 

Depending on your circumstances, supplementary forms might be required – we’ll take a look at those in the next section.

2. Gather Together Any Supporting Documents You Might Need

 Below are some of the other documents you may have to submit with your divorce petition – which documents you need will depend on your situation (do you have children, do you have legal aid, etc). 

 You can find copies of the forms, plus other guidance, here

  • State Marriage or Civil Partnership Certificate (from the marriage you are ending)
  • Statement of Arrangements for Children (if you have children) (Form M4)
  • Original Long Form Birth Certificates for any Children under 18
  • Notice of Proceedings (Form M5)
  • Acknowledgement of Service Form (Form M6)
  • Notice of Legal Aid (if you have legal aid)
  • Original Legal Aid Certificate (again, if you have legal aid)
  • Copies of any Agreements you wish to be made a rule of court
  • Certified copies of any previous court orders about your marriage or civil partnership
  • Details of CSA applications (if there are any) 


3. Lodge Your Documents at the Matrimonial Office

Once you have everything completed, you can lodge your application at the Matrimonial Office, which can be found at: 

The Matrimonial Office

Royal Courts of Justice 

Chichester Street Belfast 

BT1 3JF 

Phone: 028 9023 5111 

Fax: 028 90 322782 

Email: [email protected] 

You need to make sure that you include enough copies of the documents (at least 2 copies).

Remember that a copy of the papers will be required for your partner, plus any other co-respondents there might be named in the petition.

For example, if you are using Adultery as a fact, and you have named the person whom your partner had an affair with in the petition, you will need to enclose a copy of the documents for them too. 

If you don’t include enough duplicates when you are lodging your petition, it will just cause unnecessary delay to your application. 

So it is better to make sure that you enclose plenty of copies from the start.


  • Pay The Divorce Petition Fee

When you lodge your divorce petition, you will have to pay the court fee. 

At the time of writing, the fee for lodging the petition is £237 (you can check the up-to-date fees here).

2. Which Court Do I Start My Divorce In?

Divorces in Northern Ireland can be heard in either the County Court or the High Court. Different factors influence which Court will deal with your divorce, such as its complexity and whether it is being contested or not.

A divorce can be issued in either the County Court or the High Court.

The High Court is based in Belfast, whereas the County Courts in Northern Ireland are located in:

3. What Happens After I Lodge the Divorce Petition? 

After you lodge your divorce petition at the Matrimonial Office, the staff will check that the paperwork is in order, after which the petition will be served on your ex-partner. They should then indicate whether they intend to either accept or contest the divorce petition.  

After you lodge your divorce petition with the Matrimonial Office, the staff there will check:

  • that you have completed the necessary forms 
  • that you have included enough copies, and 
  • that you have paid the correct fee 

After the paperwork has been processed, it will be returned to you for “service” on your partner and any other co-respondents. 

The word “service” simply means that the papers have been delivered to your partner. 

You can “serve” the documents by: 

  • sending them by ordinary first class post
  • sending them by recorded delivery (recommended), or 
  • sending them via a process server

You should not serve the divorce paperwork yourself.  

You should include the sealed copy of the divorce petition together with the Original Forms M4/M5/M6 (where necessary).

After your partner has received the documents, they should complete the Acknowledgement of Service (Form M6). 

  • If they indicate that they consent to the divorce, your case will be listed for Decree Nisi hearing (we’ll look at this in greater detail below). 
  • If they indicate that they intend to defend the divorce, they will have to file an answer to your petition. 

 If the divorce is defended, there will be a round of what are called “pleadings” – this is where each partner will provide evidence to support their positions, seek discovery of documents, exchange arguments, etc. 

Once all of the documents are exchanged and in order, you must lodge the Certificate of Readiness and pay the court fee.

The fee for a court hearing, at the time of writing, is £296 for the county court and £355 in the High Court (you can see the current fees here).

(Remember that these are only the fees for the court, if you have legal representation their fees will be extra).

After the fee has been paid and the paperwork has been processed, your case will be listed for a court hearing. 

You will receive notification by post, letting you know the date and time when your case will be heard. 

We’ll look at what happens at the court hearing in the next chapter, but before we do that, we should take a quick look at some of the evidence you should consider gathering in anticipation of your divorce.

4. What Evidence Do I Need For A Divorce?

If your ex decides to contest the divorce, or you both disagree about how to deal with finances or children, you will have to gather together evidence to present to the court. Such evidence could include various certificates, bank statements, invoices, payslips, accounts, letters, emails, etc. 

Right from the very outset, when you start considering divorce, you should be mindful of the evidence that you might need. 

This is in addition to what we have spoken about already, e.g. marriage certificate, birth certificates, etc. 

If there is a chance that your partner will contest the divorce, you may need to have evidence to prove the fact on which you are basing your divorce (e.g. Unreasonable Behaviour, Adultery, etc). 

This could vary hugely, from doctors notes to Whatsapp messages, from receipts/invoices to Facebook posts/emails. 

Remember also, even if your partner consents to the divorce, they may be more difficult to deal with when it comes to sorting out the financial settlement (which often comes after the legal divorce process). 

Useful evidence when it comes to that part of the process could include:  

  • bank statements 
  • bills/invoices 
  • correspondence,
  • income statements 
  • tax documentation 
  • accounts 
  • mortgage documents
  • share certificates, and so on. 

The other thing to be mindful of, during a divorce is the evidence that you are creating

At some point in the proceedings, if an issue is in dispute, the other side can request discovery of various information (sometimes this can include information that you might think is private). 

So be careful about what you write in Facebook posts, Whatsapp messages, emails, etc. 

Think twice before making any public statements that might have an impact on your evidence to the court. 

Everyone hopes that their divorce and financial settlements go smoothly. 

But for some people that simply doesn’t happen – and the last thing you want is for an ill-judged Facebook post to cost you work against you in court.

1. Do I Have To Attend Court?

In Northern Ireland, the person who is making the divorce application must attend court for what is known as a “Decree Nisi” hearing.

The person who is applying for the divorce normally has to attend court for the Decree Nisi hearing. 

If your partner consents to the divorce, and has raised no objections about the content of your petition, they don’t have to attend court. 

(If, on the other hand, they contest the petition, they’ll have to attend too.)

If your divorce application is being heard in the High Court, the case will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (you’ll find the entrance beside the Bar Library). 


If your divorce is being heard in the County Court, your hearing will usually be in the same court as where you filed your Divorce Petition.

When you arrive, you can ask at Reception for directions to the individual court where the divorce hearings are being heard that day.

It’s absolutely normal to be nervous when you are attending court, especially if you are representing yourself. 

Don’t add to the stress by arriving late, or “just in time”. 

Give yourself plenty of time to find the right room, to make sure you have your papers in order, and just to settle your nerves and get your bearings. 

Don’t be afraid to ask court staff (ushers, etc) questions if you have any. 

If you have a solicitor, make sure that you have a clear arrangements for where and when you are going to meet them. Make sure you have a mobile number for them in case you have any difficulties finding them.

2. What Happens At A Divorce Court Hearing?

A divorce court hearing can be a pretty daunting experience. Below are a few tips to help ensure that the day goes smoothly for you and is as stress-free as possible. 

For uncontested, uncomplicated divorces, the hearing can often be very quick. 

Sometimes the whole thing is over before you really know it’s begun!

Often the hearing will be heard in private in the Judge’s room (known as “chambers”), but it can also be heard in open court.  

Judges are used to people being nervous, and most of them are understanding. If you have a solicitor, they will do most of the talking for you – just follow their instructions. 

If you are representing yourself, you can start off by introducing yourself to the Judge with your full name, and whether you are the Petitioner or Respondent.  

Each Judge is different, but most of them will want to know:

  • who is bringing the petition (husband or wife) 
  • the fact(s)/ground(s) that the petition is being brought under
  • when and where the marriage took place 
  • if he/she can see the marriage certificate
  • that the petition has been served properly
  • that the marriage has broken down and there is no prospect of reconciliation

In addition to the above, the judge may ask other questions about the content of the petition too – the arrangements relating to children, etc., for example.  

 If the Judge is satisfied that the main ground of divorce has been proved – that the marriage has broken down and there is no prospect of reconciliation – they will grant what’s known as a “Decree Nisi” (or a “Conditional Order” in the case of civil partnerships). 

The Judge will then usually say that arrangements for children and finances will be dealt with at a later date. 

And that usually marks the end of the hearing!

But remember: a Decree Nisi is not your final divorce; it’s just the court order that allows you to apply for your final divorce

We’ll look at how to do that next. 

3. (Finally) Finalising The Divorce: The Decree Absolute

The Decree Absolute is the court order that legally terminates your marriage. Once the Decree Absolute has been issued, your marriage is formally at an end and you can consider yourself to be single again.

As we said above, a Decree Nisi is not your final divorce. 

But after the Judge awards you a Decree Nisi, you can then apply for the final divorce.

This is what’s known as the Decree Absolute.

Fortunately, you don’t have to attend court this time. 

All you have to do is wait for six weeks and one day after you get the Decree Nisi and then you can apply to the court – the same court that gave you your Decree Nisi – for your Decree Absolute. 

You do this by filling out Form 10 and lodging it with the court with – yes you guessed it – another fee. 

You can also find a copy of Form 10 here.

At the time of writing, the fee for an application to make a Decree Nisi a Decree Absolute is £89. You can find the current fees here.

When the court grants the Decree Absolute, you and your ex-partner will receive a copy of the Decree Absolute by post.

Important: If you and your partner have not reached agreement about your finances, sometimes it is better not to apply for a Decree Absolute immediately after the Decree Nisi. Depending on your circumstances, there could be financial implications – you could lose the right to entitlement under your ex-partner’s pension, for example. If you think you fall into this category, it’s important that you don’t make any mistakes here. If in doubt, you should contact a divorce solicitor for advice.  

If you wait for longer than a year to apply for the Decree Absolute, you will have to file an affidavit explaining the delay. 3 months after the 6 weeks and one day, your partner can apply for the decree absolute if you haven’t.

When the Decree Absolute has been granted, that is the point at which your marriage is legally at an end.

The legal part of the divorce is over and you are free to move on as a single person. 

The Decree Absolute is an important document and you should keep it in a safe place. It is proof of your divorce and you may be asked to present it at a later stage. 

For example, you may be asked to produce it if you: 

  • want to remarry
  • apply for a new passport
  • apply for a grant of probate or letters of administration
  • apply for certain benefits

So it’s a good idea to keep it in a safe place.

1. What Is A Matrimonial Agreement?

A Matrimonial Agreement is an agreement drawn up by two spouses after their marriage has broken down. A Matrimonial Agreement sets out how to split the couple’s finances and often deals with arrangements for children.

As is always the case in divorces, the more that the courts and lawyers are involved, the more time everything takes and the more expensive it is. 

So it’s always best if you and your ex-partner can agree as much as possible between yourselves, before asking the courts to impose a settlement. 

A Matrimonial Agreement (also known as a “Separation Agreement”) can be drawn up to set out how a couple will deal with finances, children and other matters after they divorce. 

Important: As we mentioned in the previous section, in cases where the family finances and property have not been finalised, the Petitioner is generally advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until after the finances are resolved. This is because you could lose certain rights, such as widow pension benefits, when the Decree Absolute is issued. 

If an agreement is reached, it can be made legally binding by being signed by both parties, and can also be made an Order of the Court. 

Matters often dealt with by Matrimonial Agreements include:  

  • who lives in the family home
  • how any assets are going to be divided (e.g. a family car, etc)
  • how bills are going to be paid (e.g. hire purchase agreements, utilities, etc)
  • how any debt is going to be divided 
  • arrangements for children, including custody and maintenance

To come to an agreement, both spouses will have to provide all information about their finances to the other, a process known as “discovery”. 

It’s very important that both parties are open and honest during discovery. If one party has been found to have hidden documentation or information, the Matrimonial Agreement could be set aside (i.e. be deemed invalid) at a later point. 

Matrimonial Agreements are often done on a “clean-break” basis. This means that both spouses often agree that neither will have a claim to the other’s property, money or assets in the future – all financial ties to each other are broken.

This can have quite serious implications, so you need to be sure of what you are doing before you sign a Matrimonial Agreement that does this.  

For example, if you enter a Matrimonial Agreement is agreed on a clean-break basis, and suddenly your spouse inherits a fortune from a long-lost uncle, you will have no claim to those assets. 

There can also be tax implications too, depending on your individual circumstances. 

If your finances and family situation are quite simple, a Matrimonial Agreement could be agreed with relative ease.

But if your finances are a bit more complicated, you should think about getting advice from a specialist divorce solicitor to make sure all of your interests are protected and you get no nasty surprises in the future.

2. What Are Ancillary Relief Proceedings?

“Ancillary Relief Proceedings” are court proceedings that happen when a divorcing couple can’t agree on how to divide their finances after their marriage has broken down.

If you and your ex cannot agree how to split your finances after divorce, either of you can apply to the court to start ancillary relief proceedings. 


In essence, you set out to the court what you would like to see happen, your ex will set out what they think should happen, and the court will make a binding decision.


The main law in this area can be found in Part Three of the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.

If you think you will have to resort to ancillary relief proceedings in order to bring about a fair financial settlement, it is critical that you start collecting your evidence as soon as possible. 

It is highly likely that you will be asked to disclose: 

  • your full financial history from the start of the marriage (at least)
  • details of all property you own
  • details of any disposals/sales of property (and any profits/losses made
  • details of all kinds of income you receive
  • what liabilities you have
  • bank statements, bills, pension documents, examples of typical utility bills, etc
  • outgoings connected with any children, etc. 

It is a big job to gather up all this information, so the sooner you get started, the better. 

Later in this chapter we will look at how the court deals with ancillary relief applications. But before that, it’s important to note that some people, they cannot wait for the divorce to come through before sorting out certain parts of their finances. 

Perhaps one spouse has been the sole source of income in the family. In such a case, the other spouse may require financial assistance during the period between the relationship breaking down and the divorce being finalised. 

So we’ll talk about how this can be dealt with in the next section.

3. I Can’t Wait Until The Divorce Is Over – I Need Money Now – What Can I Do?

If you are in need of financial support between the start of the divorce proceedings and reaching a financial settlement, you can apply to the court for help.

Just because you are going through a divorce, it doesn’t stop the bills from landing in your letterbox. 

Many people find that they need some kind of a financial stop-gap, so they can get help with the bills while the divorce application is being dealt with in the courts. 

A Maintenance Pending Suit Order is an order for one spouse to pay money to the other on a periodic basis, until the financial aspects of the divorce are resolved. 

You can apply for this order at any point after the presentation of the divorce petition.

4. How The Courts Assess Financial Settlements

Everyone’s individual circumstances are different, so there is no way to predict for certain what a court will decide when it comes to a financial settlement. But there are factors that courts will commonly consider when coming to a fair decision.

Once divorce proceedings are underway, one of the first questions asked often is “who gets the house?”

There is no one-size fits all approach to such a question – every family’s situation is different and family finances can be complex. 

Courts face a difficult task when it comes to financial settlements and ancillary relief applications. 

It’s impossible to set out what a court might order in any individual case, but we do know some of the key criteria that are taken into account: 

  • income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources parties have or likely to have.
  • financial needs, obligations and responsibilities
  • standard of living enjoyed pre – breakdown
  • age of each party / duration of the marriage
  • any physical or mental disability
  • contributions by each party to the welfare of the family
  • conduct of the parties if inequitable to disregard (e.g. attempting to murder the other spouse or gambling the family’s assets).  
  • value to each of the parties of any benefit which they will lose on dissolution or annulment of the marriage.  

You can read more about these in Article 27 of the Matrimonial Causes Order. 

At the forefront of the Court’s mind throughout the proceedings will be the welfare of any children of the marriage

The Court will also try to ensure that everyones’ financial needs are met insofar as possible, and the default starting point is usually a 50/50 split in assets between spouses (though that split could change, depending on circumstances). 

For example, in the case of a long marriage, the Court may feel it is fair to split all the couple’s assets. 

But if the marriage was only short in duration, the Court may decide to only split assets that were acquired during the marriage itself.

5. Different Financial Provision Orders You Can Apply For

If you want the court to make an Order for your ex to make a payment to you on an on-going basis, you can make an application for a Financial Provision Order. 

There are a 3 different kinds of financial provision order you can ask the court to make (you can find them in Article 25 of the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order).  

Which one you apply for will largely depend on your circumstances and what kind or arrangement you are asking for.

They are as follows:

1. Periodical Payments: These are simply orders for payment of weekly/monthly sums by one spouse to the other (or a child).

2. Secured Periodical Payments: These payments are secured on an asset of your spouse. While the Order is in force, the asset cannot be sold. 

3. Lump Sum Payment: This is a specific sum of money, which can be paid in one payment or in instalments. This is usually to compensate one spouse if the other gets awarded the matrimonial home for example, pension rights, or some other asset. This is a one-off payment – it usually cannot be increased at a later stage. 


Children can apply for the above Orders, but periodic payments fall under the ultimate jurisdiction of the CSA. If you need to get a payment Order for children, you should get in touch with the CSA staff. You can find more information here.

6. Property Adjustment Orders

On the breakdown of a marriage, the Court has extensive powers to order transfers or sales of property and other assets in favour of spouses or children.

The overriding objective of the court will be to split assets in a fair way, and in a way that makes sure everyone’s needs are met (insofar as is possible).

This will sometimes require the Court to get creative. Perhaps it will need to order the sale of a property and direct that the proceeds be paid to someone (or a group of people). Perhaps it might direct that someone can have the use of property, but not ownership of it (e.g. a wife and children living in a house until the children are adults), etc.

Article 26 of the Matrimonial Causes Order sets out the range of powers the court can put to use when deciding how to split assets.

They include:

  • ordering the sale of a property
  • transferring property from one spouse to the other (or to children)
  • transferring a property from joint name to a sole name
  • allowing a spouse or child to use a property up to a specified future date
  • allowing a spouse or child to stay in a property for life or until a “trigger” event (e.g. spouse remarries)

It’s useful to bear in mind the extent of these powers, when you are considering what kind of financial settlement you aim to achieve during your ancillary relief proceedings.

7. What Impact Does Divorce Have On Pensions?

In many cases, pensions are among the most valuable assets acquired during a marriage (second only to the matrimonial home). But they often get overlooked during financial negotiations. If one spouse has a valuable pension, the other can claim a portion of it as part of a financial settlement.

Along with the family home, pensions are often among the most valuable assets acquired during a marriage. 

During financial settlement negotiations, pensions can sometimes be overlooked, with the focus instead being on more tangible assets (the family home being a perfect example). 

Part of the reason why pensions are sometimes forgotten is that they are difficult to value, and you may require the help of an accountant or an actuary assess what a pension is worth. 

If one spouse has a valuable pension, the court can make orders to share it with the other spouse as part of a financial settlement after divorce. 

Legislation in this area includes Article 27 of the Matrimonial Causes NI Order, amended by Section 162 of the Pensions NI Order 1995. 

Two options open to the court include:  

  • Pension Sharing Order

The spouse’s pension scheme will be debited by a specified amount which will be shared with the other spouse. In effect, the transferring spouse will lose part of their pension and the receiving spouse will receive a new pension in their own name. 

  • Earmarking Order

When a spouse’s pension becomes payable, the pension administrators will be required to pay either part of the pension or a lump some to the other spouse.

Earmarking Orders are used less frequently now, with most people opting for the flexibility offered by Pension Sharing Orders. Spouses can opt to combine Pension Sharing Orders with other aspects of the settlement – for example, offsetting it against a share in the family home or other property. 


Given the complexities in this area, and the substantial sums of money that can be involved, you really should take advice from a professional in this area, that is tailored to your individual circumstances. 

Any mistakes made in this area could be extremely costly at a later stage.

8. What Impact Does A Divorce Have On My Will?

If you had made a Will before getting divorced, it is important to review this after your divorce. 

Once a divorce has been granted, any part of a will leaving property to your former spouse will be invalid (as will any gift you would have otherwise received).

1. Do Prenuptial Agreements Work In Northern Ireland?

Prenuptial agreements are not legally enforceable in Northern Ireland. But they can be used in court proceedings to give an indication of the couple’s intentions about what might happen if their marriage were to break down at some point in the future.

Nobody enters into a marriage or a civil partnership expecting that it will end in divorce.

But the sad fact is that roughly a quarter of marriages in Northern Ireland break down.

Prenuptial agreements set out how a couple want their assets divided, in the event that the parties decide to go their separate ways at some point in the future. 

In Northern Ireland however, although prenuptial agreements are not legally enforceable, they can be referred to by the courts to get an indication of what the couple’s intentions were at the outset of the marriage.

Over the years, the courts have paid more attention to prenuptial agreements, and since the case of Radmacher and Granatino in 2010, there is a general presumption that they should be largely upheld (unless there is good reason not to).

So while they aren’t strictly enforceable, a prenuptial agreement can be very useful. 

For example, perhaps one spouse has a stake in a family business which would not be practical to split in the event of the marriage breaking down.

A prenuptial agreement could set out how such a situation could be dealt with in a fair and balanced way (perhaps a way of calculating a lump sum payable, instead of a stake in the company). 

Providing the agreement is entered into freely by both parties and it fairly addresses their needs, it’s unlikely that the court would ignore it when deciding how assets should be split post divorce.

2. Are There Any Legal Alternatives To Divorce In Northern Ireland?

Divorce isn’t the only way to end your marriage. Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to end your marriage using other legal procedures, such as nullity or judicial separation.

Before you issue your divorce petition, it’s worthwhile to remember that divorce isn’t the only way of ending a marriage. 

Alternative ways of ending your marriage include nullity or judicial separation. Whether these are options for you will largely depend on your circumstances. 

You can read a bit more about them below and decide if they might be applicable to your situation.  

  • Judicial Separation 

This is similar to divorce, but you technically remain spouses in the eyes of the law. 

One situation where judicial separation could be preferable might be where one party is opposed to the divorce (for example, on religious grounds).

Judicial Separation relies on the same facts as divorce, but the court does not have to find that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. 

The marriage does not end legally, but there is no longer an obligation to cohabit. 

The court can make orders for ancillary relief, but as you will still technically be spouses, you can be entitled to a share of the other spouse’s pension, for example. 

So there may well be situations where a spouse would be financially better off with a judicial separation rather than a full divorce. 

You cannot remarry while judicially separated, but there is nothing stopping you from presenting a petition for divorce at a later point. 

The law on judicial separation can be found in Arts 19 – 20 of the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order 1978.  


  • Nullity

Nullity treats your marriage as if there were legal flaws with it from the start – meaning that it is therefore only reasonable that it could be brought to an end. 

The main advantages of nullity over divorce is that you do not have to wait for 2 years before commencing proceedings – but nullity is only available in strict circumstances. 

The first category of circumstances – where nullity is an option – is when your marriage was void. This means that is was never a valid marriage in the first place. 

Situations where this would apply would be in cases of: 

  •      incest;
  •      one party being under 16 years;
  •      invalidity by any reason of non-compliance with any rule of law;
  •      bigamy;
  •      parties are not male and female; or
  •      polygamous marriage entered into outside Northern Ireland. 


The second category of circumstances is where the marriage is voidable

A voidable marriage is one that has legal flaws, but can exist until one spouse applies to have it made void, and a decree is issued to that effect. 

 Situations where a marriage could be voidable include when:

  • the marriage was not consummated because of incapacity (or persisting wilful intention) of either party; (this ground requires medical evidence)
  • either party did not validly consent to the marriage because of duress, mistake or unsoundness of mind;
  • either party was incapable of giving consent (e.g. they had a mental disorder);
  • one party had VD (STI), or was pregnant to another person at the time (not available where the other party knew). 

The law of Nullity can be found in Arts 13-18 of the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order 1978.

An annulment won’t necessarily be granted in every situation – you can find some of the bars to nullity here

Note that if you are considering an annulment, you should apply for it within three years from the date of the marriage. 

Depending on your individual situation, judicial separation and nullity can be effective alternatives to divorce. If you feel that either could be an option for you, a divorce solicitor would be able to advise you in greater depth as to whether you might be eligible. 

 They are certainly options that are worth exploring before you commence your divorce proceedings. 

3. Can I Get Child Maintenance?

After divorce, if one parent bears a majority of the responsibility of looking after children, they can apply for child maintenance. This is a regular payment from the other parent, to assist with the costs of raising the children. It is normally calculated on a net income basis and is administered by the CSA.

If you and your partner cannot agree how to pay for raising your children, you can contact the CSA

Either you or your partner can apply to the CSA, who will carry out an assessment and make a decision about how much either parent should contribute by way of maintenance payments. 

The general rates of maintenance are: 

  • 15% of net income for one child 
  • 20% for two children and 
  • 25% for three or more children 

These are only the general rates, and they can vary based on circumstances. 

For example, suppose a father is making maintenance payments on the basis that the children are living with their mother. 

If the children stay with their father every weekend for example, the general rate of maintenance he has to pay may be reduced to reflect that.

4. International Divorce

When divorcing couples each have connections with different countries, it can throw up additional complications during the divorce process. These include what legal jurisdictions proceedings should be taken in, what power courts can have over assets, and where children should live.

When a divorcing couple is based in one country, and most of their assets are based there, the court’s power to deal with the divorce and any financial settlement are relatively clear. 

But if one spouse is perhaps living in one country, the other spouse is living somewhere else, and they have assets spread across multiple jurisdictions, the legal picture can become complicated. 

Not only can divorce proceedings be brought in more than one jurisdiction, different countries have different rules when it comes to the division of assets. Depending on the situation, it could be financially better for one spouse to have the divorce dealt with in one jurisdiction over another. 

If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to move quickly, because sometimes it can be as simple as the court where the case is listed first, is the court that decides the case.

Very complicated issues surrounding children can also arise in cases like these. Taking children out of the jurisdiction where they have been living, without the agreement of the other parent, could raise serious issues. 

It’s not unheard of to hear accusations of criminal child abduction, so if you are thinking of moving children to another jurisdiction, or you think an ex-partner of yours might be contemplating doing so, it is crucial that you get legal advice to protect your rights. 

For couples who move frequently between different jurisdictions and have property located around the world, it’s not uncommon to have prenuptial agreements. 

Although a prenuptial agreement is not strictly legally enforceable in Northern Ireland, they can be enforceable in other jurisdictions. 

Plus, even if they are not enforceable, courts in Northern Ireland will consider the contents of a prenuptial agreement to be a good indication as to the intentions of the parties, unless there is a good reason not to.


To finish off…

That’s it for this guide on how to get a divorce in Northern Ireland.

If you have finished your divorce, congratulations for making it through a difficult process. We hope you managed to resolve everything to your satisfaction.

If you are contemplating a divorce, or are in the middle of one, we hope this guide will help steer you towards a successful outcome. Bookmark this page and refer back to it as you move through the divorce process.

It’s a tough time for everyone involved, but keep pushing through and you will get it resolved.

All the best!

The Lightlaw Team

So what about you?

Have you had a divorce in Northern Ireland? Are you in the middle of your divorce right now? Do you have any feedback on this guide? Get in touch and let us know – we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Every effort is made to keep this guide up to date. Although it is not to be regarded as legal advice, we strive to make sure the information is accurate. If you are a Northern Ireland divorce solicitor and have spotted an inaccuracy, you can submit a suggested change.