Divorce in Northern Ireland Frequently Asked Questions

06 March 2024

For many, the process of divorce in Northern Ireland understandably can appear challenging and emotionally overwhelming. From understanding the grounds for divorce to grappling with issues like child custody and financial settlements, there are a multitude of questions that our clients often ask during the divorce process.

In this article, we aim to address the most frequently asked questions surrounding divorce law in Northern Ireland, offering clarity and guidance on key aspects of marital dissolution. Whether you are seeking information on the legal grounds for divorce, the division of assets, or arrangements for children, our specialist divorce lawyers can help you navigate this process with confidence.

What are the grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland?

There are five ‘grounds’ for divorce and a person must satisfy one of these grounds in order to get a divorce.

  • Unreasonable Behaviour - you need to show the Court that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, lack of communication, financial control, coercive behaviour or misconduct and addictions.
  • Adultery -you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage.  The person with whom your partner had the affair can be joined and named in the Divorce Petition also.
  • Two Years’ Separation With Consent  - available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than two years and your partner consents to the divorce. You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another.
  • Desertion for Two Years - This occurs is where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.
  • Five Years Separation -This ground is available where you and your spouse have lived separate for more than five years. You do not require your spouse’s consent on this ground.

How long does the divorce process take in Northern Ireland?

The specific timeline depends on factors such as the grounds for divorce, whether proceedings are contested by your spouse and whether there are financial matters to be resolved. A very straightforward and undefended divorce where there are no financial matters to resolved will generally take approximately six months. 

Is it necessary to go to Court for a divorce in Northern Ireland?

To formally dissolve your marriage, you will need to apply to the Court for divorce.  There will be a Court hearing called a Decree Nisi which you will need to attend in order to obtain the divorce. If there are marital assets to resolve, you and your spouse can engage in negotiations outside of the Court forum through solicitors to reach a fair division of any marital assets.  This is the process of negotiating a Matrimonial Agreement.  If financial matters cannot be resolved amicably in this manner, then an application for financial provision will need to be made to the Court.  This is known as an Ancillary Relief application. 

What is the difference between separation and divorce in Northern Ireland?

Separation means living apart without formally ending the marriage. Divorce is the legal dissolution of the marriage.

How is property divided during a divorce in Northern Ireland?  

The division of property upon divorce will depend on the nature and extent of assets in each particular case.  Generally, both spouses will have rights to the family home, regardless of whether they are both named on the title of the property or if they contributed to the mortgage and outgoings. If one spouse is undertaking primary care of any minor children following separation, that spouse will generally get a larger portion of any equity in the family home.  

If there are other properties owned by either spouse, consideration will have to firstly be given to whether the property was bought pre-marriage, during the marriage or post-separation as well as the needs of each spouse when assessing any claim or interest.

Do I have any rights over my spouse’s pension?

Yes, you will have a claim over any pension that your spouse accrued during your marriage. Pension valuations will need to be obtained to determine any entitlement. Any claim you have over your spouse’s pension can may be realised by way of a Pension Sharing Order.  This is where your spouse’s pension pot is split and the percentage that you are entitled to is placed in a separate pension pot for you to access upon retirement.  Alternatively, consideration can be given to your interest in your spouse’s pension being offset against other marital assets. Pensions are complex assets and it is important that you obtain specialist advice about your rights in this area.

Can I get spousal support in Northern Ireland?

Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance, may be agreed or awarded depending on a variety of factors including financial need. There is no strict formula for assessing spousal maintenance and whether any such maintenance is payable following separation will depend on the disparity of income of both parties and their needs.  It is normally assessed by looking at both parties’ income and expenditure.

For advice and assistance on any matter relating to divorce or separation, contact Claire Edgar by email on cedgar@fhanna.co.uk or calling 028 9024 3901