The number of cohabiting couple families has more than doubled from 1.5 million families to 3.3 million between 1996 and 2016. It is the fastest growing family type, coming in second to those who are married or in civil partnerships. Many cohabiting couples assume that moving in together gives the same rights and responsibilities as those who are married, often referred to as common law marriage, to find out at the end of a relationship that this is not true.
Breaking up is hard to do, says Victoria Holden, 35. When Victoria found herself at the end of a 13-year relationship she was shocked to find that she had no protection from the law.
“I wasn’t married but you think as you’ve been together 13-years and bought a house, had children, naively that you are common law man and wife but you are not. There was no protection in law whatsoever even though we had all the same commitments and responsibilities for children and the home after separation.
“Becoming a single parent was hard and trying to co-parent with someone who won’t cooperate is even harder. It’s emotionally charged and there is limited support”.
The financial cost of the split was something which Victoria had never considered. “I gained £17,000 debt in 4 years, being single trying to maintain the mortgage payments and looking after the children on my salary alone with no contribution from my ex.
“I had to pay for legal advice and mediation to sort the house at my own expense. I’ve had to fight for maintenance since 2012 and represented myself at a tribunal against the state, to win a variation. I won £9500 in arrears of child maintenance but this will be paid at £10 per week and will take 17 years to receive.
“Things you don’t even think will be an issue like mutual friends, how do you decide who to stay in touch with, and who you can trust? I found you can lose a lot of friends and family overnight.”
Victoria, will represent herself in court again, she explained: “I will be representing myself to try and ask a judge to give me a larger share of the properties worth, than the 50 percent, based on the fact I pay for it and maintain the children and have done so for several years”.
Victoria said: “Separation is sometimes unavoidable, no one wants to get divorced or split up but if the relationship fails it needs to happen. Unfortunately, it is emotionally charged and people make decisions based on hurt and upset rather than being pragmatic and making decisions based on damage limitation and what’s fair”.
Many celebrities have announced splits recently, using social media to share the message of their ‘conscious uncoupling’. Victoria said: “I would guess if you know something is going to be difficult and attract a lot of media attention it’s better to get it out in the open rather than have the media speculate what’s happening or expose you. Maybe it’s a good thing as it sets an example for others that breaking up can be harmonious”.
Katy Daly is one of the founders of amicable, a service that supports couples going through separation; including the divorce process, legal procedures, financial split and childcare arrangements.
Katy said: “amicable was created after going through my own traumatic and expensive divorce. The cost and the emotional damage of involving lawyers was a huge shock. I felt the world needed a solution that put families first and helped parents remain on good terms, our solution was amicable”.
As well as the emotional journey couples go through when they decide to part ways, the current legal infrastructure in the UK can cause additional issues. For example, we do not yet have a no-fault divorce structure, which means that many couples are forced to enter a blame game where one person has to blame the other and write a narrative as to why the marriage is over.
Getting divorced was the most traumatic experience for me, I wanted to change that for others going through a relationship break-up
Katy explained: “As you can imagine, the current set-up for divorce, can cause discomfort and upset for couples who want to separate on amicable terms.
“Too many families emerge from divorce damaged and scarred. amicable can’t prevent divorce, but we can help people to move on successfully with their lives.
“We are a divorce services company and not a law firm. This means that we can help both people in the relationship. In the UK, a lawyer can only act for one person, which forces people to double their legal costs”.
Katy explains: “There are many different ways people can divorce including doing it yourself, using a company like amicable, solicitors, lawyers, arbitration and court. It all depends on the personal circumstance of that particular couple and how to control what they want.”
amicable is a unique new approach to divorce and separation for couples. The service provides friendly advice from a divorce expert, and support the split or divorce agreement right through to the legal documentation. Amicable is a fixed-price service with pricing starting from £300 for a simple divorce.
Lisa Brown, is a family solicitor and senior associate at Maguire Family Law in Wilmslow, she said; “There are challenges in every relationship of course, and each couple is different. But in my experience, there are three main predictors of divorce. Broadly speaking they are:
“External relationships, not necessarily an affair and possibly even just a friendship, but closeness with people outside of a marriage can provide a catalyst to ending a relationship, or simply proves to be the final straw for one of the parties.
“The second would be issues within the relationship ‘drifting apart’ or lack of communication, affection or intimacy; these are major issues that can arise when one or both parties simply aren’t on the same page anymore. In some ways, these are the saddest cases, because the people involved in the marriage have simply fallen out of love.
“And finally, money troubles, financial challenges can be so divisive within a relationship and are frequently a cause of friction. However, these issues often aren’t as a result of insufficient funds, but rather where couples disagree on approaches to savings, spending, and lifestyle.”
Lisa explains: “It may sound unlikely, but it is possible and indeed preferable to aim for a harmonious divorce. Whilst it is entirely unrealistic to suggest there will never be any disagreements, after all, consider how many can arise in a happy marriage, but what is fundamental is how the parties approach differences in opinion.
“A key starting point for parties wishing to maintain a positive or neutral relationship is, to be honest, and open with each other about their expectations post-divorce. This can include financial settlements, approaches to co-parenting and any marital property, such as the family home.
“A solicitor may be required to hammer out the finer points, but more often than not, with a degree of goodwill, the parties may be able to broadly reach an agreement that is fair and reasonable to both.
“At this point, and regardless of whether a solicitor has been involved, the parties require a court order to formalise the agreement and make it binding.
“This step provides to everybody including any children of the relationship if it contains provisions that will affect them and prevents either party returning for more in the future.”
HOW TO GET A DIVORCE
Read our seven simple steps which share how you can apply for divorce
1. You will need your marriage certificate
You need your marriage certificate because you have to file it at court when you start your divorce application.
2. Start your divorce petition in court
You can file your divorce petition in any divorce County court. You will need Form D8: the Divorce Petition.
3. Let your spouse know you have filed for divorce
Once your divorce forms have been submitted, you will need to serve the divorce petition to your spouse, the court will do this, but you will need to provide the address. They will have seven days to respond.
4. Your spouse’s response
Once your petition is posted to your spouse there are a number of outcomes dependant upon their reply. Did they respond, do they want to defend against the divorce, do they agree and can the divorce be granted? This process is called a ‘Deree Nisi’
5. Decree Nisi
To apply for Decree Nisi you need to complete divorce forms D84: an Application for a Decree Nisi, and form D80A through to D80E: a Statement in Support of Divorce/Dissolution/Judicial Separation
6. Getting the Decree Nisi granted
Send all the forms to the court, these will then be examined by the judge, who will consider whether your forms satisfy the requirements for divorce.
7. Obtaining your Decree Absolute
Apply for your Decree Absolute, this document officially ends your marriage.