Why do wives issue divorce proceedings?

Although the divorce rate is falling, statistics show that more wives than husbands issue divorce proceedings.

Lots of reasons are put forward for this. It has been suggested that husbands are not living up to their wives’ expectations or those promises made in the heady romantic days leading up to their wedding. This could, indeed, be the case.

Others suggest that wives are more pro-active, whereas husbands can let situations drift, even if they are not happy within them.

However, there are legal reasons why wives often choose to be the petitioner and this is likely to be on advice from their solicitor.

The petitioner, or her solicitor, is responsible for most of the steps in the divorce process itself. The husband, if he is the respondent, needs only to complete and acknowledge service, confirming he has received the divorce petition and does not intend to defend it and his wife’s solicitor will carry out the other steps.

However, the very significant point about being the petitioner is making the application for decree absolute.

Decree absolute is the final step which ends the marriage. This is quite a straightforward step if the Petitioner is making the application to the Court, which is usually granted quite quickly. The petitioner can apply for decree absolute 6 weeks (and 1 day) after decree nisi. It is also possible for the respondent (the husband in the example I am using) to apply for decree absolute 3 months after that. However, if the respondent makes the application, it has to be by giving the petitioner formal notice of the application and the court will then set a hearing date, and the petitioner has an opportunity to object to decree absolute being granted to finalise the end of the marriage.

The reason that one person may want to defer Decree Absolute is if they are prejudiced financially by the marriage coming to an end before finances have been resolved. For example, a husband may have a death in service scheme with his firm, which would pay out to a widow. He may have a life assurance policy or a pension scheme which would pay out to a widow in the event of his death. If the marriage is ended the wife is no longer a wife and, therefore, no longer a widow and entitled to these benefits in the event of his death.

A wife in these circumstances may therefore be very concerned that the marriage is not brought to a final end until finances have been resolved.

A solicitor will consider this right at the beginning, and being the petitioner in the proceedings, gives protection against this final step being taken by the husband (without any notice to his wife) if he is the petitioner.

There are also cost implications in that if the wife is divorcing her husband on the grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, she may seek a costs order for the husband to pay divorce costs for the divorce proceedings themselves.

If a husband seeks legal advice this will also be explained to him.

There are, therefore, important considerations to take into account in deciding who is going to be the one issuing the divorce petition.