Let’s start with the good news: it is no longer possible to ‘defend’ a divorce. Prior to April 2022, it was possible to formally reject a divorce petition from your spouse, then argue in court that the divorce should not proceed. This option was rarely taken – most people were sensible enough to realise that you cannot force someone to stay married to you, but it was chosen on occasion, causing delay, expense and heartache for the individuals concerned. But the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act removed this possibility when it came into force on April 6 2022, consigning the divorce defence to history.
Nevertheless, an estranged partner who drags their feet and delays signing on the dotted line can still be a significant hindrance. So, what should you do if you find yourself in that situation?
Resolving issues with a difficult spouse through negotiation and mediation
In the first instance, talk to your spouse. Explain the reality of the situation and try to make sure your estranged husband or wife understand that the longer they delay, the greater the chance of complications and additional costs. Encourage them to help you both reach a settlement out of court: this is both cheaper and quicker, so both of you will benefit in the long run.
Try to avoid relitigating old arguments: the objective is to find practical common ground as soon as you can. Be prepared to compromise on at least some issues if you want to get documents signed and declarations made.
But equally, don’t let your ex dictate the tone and pace of the divorce. Avoid emotional confrontations as much as you can. Instead, keep a clear head. Be proactive and organised. Concentrate on practical matters and supply your solicitor with everything he or she requires to move matters forward.
Resolving issues through a third party
If the relationship is strained, it may be sensible to avoid meeting in person, at least initially. Face-to-face meetings can inflame emotions and encourage arguments. Instead confine yourself to email or text, at least initially, in order to create a calmer distance.
If civil communication is very difficult, a family solicitor can communicate with your estranged spouse on your behalf via formal letter.
Mediation may also be worth considering. This is a form of formal negotiation guided by a neutral, third-party mediator who has been trained to help involved parties meet in the middle. Of course, mediation requires both parties to be willing to participate but it can be very effective when both parties are moved beyond the typically fraught initial stages of a split.