Going through the divorce process can be stressful and things can change along the way.
The no-fault divorce procedure that was introduced in April 2022 was intended to alleviate some of the stress and to reduce animosity between spouses. The option for a joint divorce application was a part of that procedure.
What if you have applied for a joint divorce, but now your spouse isn’t engaging. What do you do? The good news is, you can take steps to move past the difficulty of your spouse not engaging in the process – you are certainly not stuck.
A joint application can be changed to a sole application. In order to switch from a joint application to a sole application, you would need to apply to the court, however, this can only be done at the Conditional Order (formerly Decree Nisi) or Final Order (formerly Decree Absolute) stages.
Joint application issued and acknowledged
If your joint application has already been issued by the court, and each spouse has returned the acknowledgement of service form, but your spouse is refusing to apply for the conditional order you would have to wait until 20 weeks have passed from the issue of the application to then make an application to the court to convert the divorce to a sole application.
Most spouses hold the divorce at the conditional order stage until a financial settlement has been reached before applying for the Final Order. It is usually in both parties’ interests to hold off applying for the Final Order (the point in which the marriage is legally ended) to protect certain rights you would have in respect of each other which you would otherwise potentially lose at the end of the divorce.
The divorce does however need to be progressed to the conditional order stage – it is only then that the Court have the power to approve a financial settlement and make it full, final and binding.
If your spouse is failing to engage with the divorce, it is likely that they are also failing to engage with the resolution of financial matters. As a result, the need to amend the divorce application from joint to sole at that stage should not delay matters, but rather the timeline to complete the divorce will be dependent on the time it takes to reach a financial agreement and the court approving that agreement, before then applying for Final Order.
It is not a difficult process to apply to switch the application and so should not be something to be worried about.
Application not acknowledged
If you have submitted a joint application but your spouse has failed to acknowledge the application you would need to apply to the Court to withdraw the joint application and submit a new sole application. This would incur a further application fee.
Joint applications were intended to allow both parties to feel involved and to reduce the possibility of an imbalance of perceived ‘power’. Whilst this can work really well for some couples, often, a previously amicable relationship can break down during the process and these kinds of difficulties can arise.
Therefore, before making a divorce application it is really important to consider how amicable your relationship is with your spouse and whether you think this could change and how that could impact the divorce application. Ultimately it is a decision individual to each couple and there is not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. It is important to take legal advice about which way to proceed to avoid any risk of further cost or delay.