The divorce petition

The content of a divorce petition in England does usually require explanation. When a client seeks divorce advice the first questions are more often than not about the content of a divorce petition. The are various things which might hold up the timetable of a divorce in England and not the least of these is that the Respondent (ie the person who receives the divorce petition) does not fully understand it and therefore delays dealing with it. Bearing in mind that no-one likes receiving a divorce petition and that each spouse may be understandably suspicious that the other is trying to steal a march on him/her it is quite natural that people want to understand what is happening before committing themselves.

In practice, most of the words of a divorce petition are self-explanatory and simply recite the details of the marriage and the reason for divorce. The part which almost invariably does cause difficulty (and often concern) is the so-called “prayer” with which the petition ends. This is normally pre-printed on the divorce petition and in most cases it reads something like the following:-

”The Petitioner therefore prays:-

(1) That the said marriage may be dissolved:

(2) That the Respondent may be ordered to pay the costs of this suit;

(3) That he/she may be granted the following relief:-

   (i) An order for maintenance pending suit;

   (ii) A periodical payments order;

   (iii) A secured provision order;

   (iv) A lump sum order;

   (v) A property adjustment order.”

(1) is clear enough and causes no problems. This obviously needs to be there because it is what asks the court to dissolve the marriage. It is vital.

(2) is more significant. In cases involving unreasonable behaviour or adultery the courts usually order the Respondent to pay the costs of the divorce unless there is agreement to the contrary. It is therefore sensible to come to an agreement with the Petitioner over this. “I will not defend on condition you do not seek the costs from me”, for example, often secures an agreement about costs which both parties are happy with (because it speeds things up for the Petitioner and costs less for the Respondent) but the agreement can be of any kind. If there is no agreement the court will make the usual order and the request for that is normally pre-printed on the divorce petition as in this example. If it were not included here the Petitioner would not be able to seek costs against the Respondent no matter how difficult the Respondent was in, say, returning the acknowledgement of service and so it is sensible to leave it in until there is agreement.

(3) is what causes most difficulty because people do not understand it (and, indeed, there is no obvious way they could unless it is explained to them). What worries most Respondents when they read this is that they think that the Petitioner is claiming all these things and that if they return the divorce petition they will in some way have to pay these things. That is not the case. These points numbered (i) to (v) are simply the orders which may be made by a divorce court but a court cannot make such orders unless it is asked to do so. Very often when a divorce petition is filed the parties do not know what the final financial settlement will be (and neither do their lawyers). Therefore all the possible remedies available from a court are included on the divorce petition although in practice only one or two of them may eventually turn out to be relevant. “Secured provision orders”, for instance are quite uncommon. In the particular example illustrated above a ‘pension sharing order‘ has in fact been omitted. This could cause this petitioner difficulty later if it should turn she really wants a pension sharing order.

Please continue in order to find out more about the content of a divorce petition.

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