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An Alternative to Divorce

Many marriages regrettably break down, but this does not necessarily mean that divorce should ensue. 

There are some other options open to married couples who wish to separate, namely:

Separating informally

If the couple do not wish to go to court then they can choose to simply separate informally. Since this is not a concrete legally-binding agreement, it is only a practical option for those couples who remain on reasonably good terms and can trust each other. If the breakdown of the marriage was particularly acrimonious then the parties are unlikely to be able to come to an agreement amicably.

Through an informal agreement you can make arrangements on how children, housing, money, etc will be divided without having to involve the courts. The courts can intervene, however, if it thinks that one of these arrangements is not reasonable.

After coming to an informal separation agreement you should make sure certain relevant bodies are informed:

  • if you are paying tax credits, HM Revenue and Customs
  • if you pay council tax, receive Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit, your local council.

You also need to inform your benefits office if you receive any of the following:

  • income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support

Separation agreements

A deed of separation, also known as a separation agreement, is a legal document signed by a couple who have split but are not yet ready to commit to getting divorced. For couples who live apart, it clarifies the legal status of the relationship by recording any agreements that have been made with regards to money, property and arrangements for children. Drawing up a deed of separation when a couple parts ways can save going to court later.

Before a couple comes to discuss a possible deed of separation, each party must produce a financial disclosure, which lists all of their assets and liabilities, accompanied by documentary evidence. The couple can then attempt to come to an agreement after exchanging the disclosures.

You will need a solicitor to draft your agreement as well as to mediate when the relationship between the spouses has soured to the point where negotiation is problematic. A deed of separation can be very complicated, and for peace of mind you should get a solicitor help you understand the finer points of the deed so that you don’t come off worse after you separate.

As the courts have no involvement in forming a deed of separation, they are not legally binding, although if disputed within divorce proceedings the court is likely to hold the parties to the same unless there is good reason not to. Separation agreements can wield an effective influence on the parties involved, and can help to speed up the process of forming a divorce settlement, should the couple eventually decide to go down this route. A deed of separation can form the basis of a consent order when filing for divorce.

Judicial separation

A judicial separation is a reasonably rare type of separation which can be granted to couple who want to effectively divorce, but have a moral or religious objection to the institution of divorce itself, for example. Unlike with divorce, it is not a requirement for judicial separation to demonstrate that your relationship has broken down irretrievably.

To begin a judicial separation you need to fill in a D8 Form and send two copies to your nearest divorce court, keeping a copy for yourself. You will also need to send a certified copy of your marriage or civil partnership certificate. Judicial separation costs £365.