As a divorce lawyer, I’m torn. On the one hand I am pleased that divorce law is an area of law that readers find interesting – we either all know someone who is going through a divorce or many of us will have at least considered divorce – enough of us have been through a divorce. It is an area of law that can evoke empathy within many of us.
However, on the other hand, my frustration and despair continues due to the tendency of the press to take fundamental rules and practices of divorce out of context, to the degree of falsely influencing readers to gauge a view on the subject they may eventually share and therefore falsely perpetuate.
One example is the idea of the ‘quickie divorce’. Mere mortals can be told that celebrity X has been granted a ‘Quickie Divorce!!’ by judge Y and thereby creating the illusion that by virtue of one’s celebratory status, one can be granted speedy preferential treatment by an eminent high court judge. The fact of the matter is that there is no such phenomenon within the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Each divorce petition, submitted by a petitioner, is lodged at central divorce admin centre in Bury St Edmunds, assigned and distributed to the appropriate local family court. No lawyer nor admin officer nor judge can or will expedite the process, whoever the parties are. If there is no delay from either party’s lawyers and the court admin back-log is not too bad, the judge can be in a position to grant the first formal stage of the divorce, known as the ‘Decree Nisi’ within 3 months of the start of the divorce. This act does not signify the grant of a divorce and therefore is not a quickie divorce! Until the judge has granted the final stage of the divorce known as the ‘Decree Absolute’ the parties are not divorced. Once cannot be ‘a little bit’ divorced!
Another recent example is that of a long-married wife in her 60’s who, according to press reports, was disallowed to divorce her allegedly stubborn difficult husband by an even more stubborn and difficult judge, on the grounds she presented of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. Cue controversial uproar from readers upon the antiquated, misogynist views of divorce judges! Again, the press have succeeded in misleading their readers by only partially reporting facts. In order to successfully proceed with a petition based on the other party’s unreasonable behaviour, the petitioner must demonstrate within the petition that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. If the Judge is not convinced that this is the case, he or she will not approve the petition. In the rare instances this occurs, the petitioner or their solicitor must simply redraft the petition evidencing reasons where the judge can conclude the marriage has in fact irretrievably broken down. Solicitors are skilled at succinctly drafting such reasons. More often than not, petitioners who submit a petition without the advice of a solicitor has their petition initially refused. Simple reasons set out -such as regular excepted, marital arguments are not normally seen as conclusive evidence that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. It is right that the sanctity of marriage is a sacred one, and that divorces must not be flippantly granted by judges. Equally important is that if there is a clear breakdown, the start of a divorce is approved. In any event, in this example, it is not case that a woman was unequivocally denied the chance to divorce, but merely that her facts were not set out convincingly or properly on paper. She may resubmit her petition, under proper advice, and go onto to successfully divorce!
The message is this: reading about real divorces can be interesting and compelling discussion areas – but be wary that the press will always be hasty to sensationalise points of controversy without highlighting the full set of facts. So when it doubt, phone a divorce lawyer!