The divorce process in the UK can seem complicated.
And new no fault divorce legislation means that the experiences of family and friends may not be as helpful as before.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting a divorce.
1: Start the divorce application
The first thing you need to do is send your divorce application to court.
There are two ways you can do this – online or through the post.
Filling out the divorce application online will usually help speed up the process.
The latest divorce reforms (no fault divorce) mean that you don’t need to provide any reasons why you want to get divorced.
Instead, all you need to do is write a statement saying that you believe your marriage has broken down.
As well writing the statement, you’ll need to provide:
Your full name and address
Your spouse’s full name and address
Proof of your marriage certificate
You also now have the option of making the divorce application jointly with your spouse. If you choose to do this, you’ll both be known as joint applicants.
If you apply by yourself, you’ll be called the applicant and your spouse will be the respondent.
There’s a court fee of £593 to apply for divorce. You can split this cost with your spouse if you apply together.
2: The acknowledgement of service
The second stage of the divorce process is the ‘acknowledgement of service’.
This involves demonstrating to the court that both you and your spouse are aware of proceedings and have had a chance to respond.
The process will be different depending on whether you apply for divorce jointly with your spouse or on your own.
If you apply by yourself
If you apply for divorce by yourself, your spouse (the respondent) will be sent a copy of the divorce petition along with an acknowledgement of service form.
They will have 14 days to return the completed form saying whether they agree to the divorce or if they intend to dispute it.
Under the previous divorce laws, the respondent had the option to contest the divorce petition, either because they didn’t want the divorce, or because they disagreed with the grounds for divorce used on the divorce petition.
Now that it’s no longer possible to contest a divorce, this is something of a formality.
While it’s technically possible to dispute a divorce petition, it’s only for specific legal reasons, such as a marriage being illegitimate. So, your spouse can’t hold up your divorce application simply because they don’t want to get divorced.
Your divorce application will be processed once the court receives the completed acknowledgement of service form.
Realistically, the only things that can affect how long this stage takes is the post and the courts.
If you apply jointly
When you make a joint divorce application with your spouse, you become joint applicants. This means that there’s no respondent to get an acknowledgment of service form from.
Instead, you’ll both be sent an ‘acknowledgment of service’ receipt to confirm that your application is being processed.
Your application will move automatically on to the next stage of the divorce process.
3: The reflection period
After the acknowledgement of service, your divorce application enters a 20-week waiting period before you can move on to the next stage.
This is known as the ‘reflection period’ or ‘cooling off period’.
It’s designed to help you come to an agreement with your spouse about how to split your finances and look after your children, as well as to reflect on the divorce in general.
While you’re encouraged to use the time to make arrangements with your spouse, don’t worry if you can’t agree – you can still move on to the next stage.
4: Apply for the conditional order
Once 20 weeks have passed, you can apply for a conditional order.
The conditional order is a certificate that says the court sees no reason why you can’t get divorced.
If you apply for divorce online, you’ll be told how to apply for the conditional order online.
Otherwise, you can apply through the post by filling out a Form D84.
The conditional order is the first of the two court orders that make up the divorce process, along with the final order. They have replaced the old court orders, the decree nisi and the decree absolute.
While they work in roughly the same way, there are differences. For example, unlike the conditional order, the decree nisi application requires you to give the reasons why you want to get divorced.
Importantly, if your divorce began before 6 April 2022, you’ll be subject to the old divorce laws. So, you’ll have to apply for a decree nis and a decree absolute instead.
If you applied for divorce online, you can apply for a decree nisi online.
You can also fill out a decree nisi application form to apply by post.
For more information, read our guide: What is a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute?
5: The Certificate of Entitlement
The court will review your conditional order application.
Provided you filled the forms out correctly, you and your spouse will be sent a ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ that tells you when the conditional order will be granted.
This usually takes a few weeks to arrive.
6: The court grants the conditional order
When you receive the conditional order, the court has essentially approved your divorce.
Importantly, you’ll still be legally married once the conditional order has been granted. But it confirms that the court sees no reason why you can’t get divorced.
There’s a further waiting period of six weeks before you can apply to finalise your divorce.
This reflection period is designed to give you time to submit a financial consent order to the court to split your divorce finances.
7: Apply for a financial order
You can use the six week waiting period to apply for a financial consent order.
As part of the divorce process, you need to come to a financial agreement with your spouse. A financial consent order is what makes this agreement legally binding.
This step isn’t required – you can get divorced without it – but you’re best off doing it if you can. Otherwise, your spouse could make a claim against your estate in the future.
Once the court grants the financial order, all financial ties to your spouse will end.
8: Apply for the final order
Six weeks and one day after getting the conditional order, you can apply for the final order.
The final order (previously called the decree absolute) is the document that legally ends your marriage.
You can apply by post or online.
9: The court grants the final order
The court will review your final order application.
In most cases, you’ll be granted the final order within 24 hours.
Once it’s granted, you’re officially divorced and free to remarry.
Sorting out divorce finances
Sorting out how to split the marital finances is often the hardest part of a divorce.
It’s important to remember that the financial settlement is dealt with separately from the divorce process. So, you could be legally divorced but still have financial ties to your ex-spouse.
You need to decide how you’ll split your assets, from houses and cars to savings and pensions.
To make your agreement legally binding, you’ll need to instruct a solicitor to draw you a financial consent order.
How much does it cost to get a divorce?
The divorce application fee is £593.
On top of this court fee, you’ll need to pay for your solicitor, and reach a financial settlement with your ex-partner.
For a detailed look at the costs of a divorce, read our guide: How much does a divorce cost?
How long does it take to get a divorce?
A divorce in the UK takes at least six months.
This is because there are 26 weeks of waiting periods in the divorce process that you must go through.
In most cases, a divorce will take longer because of the time it takes to reach a financial settlement. This will be different for everyone.
In general, you can expect it to take about a year to get divorced and reach a financial settlement.
For more information, read our guide: How long does a divorce take in the UK?
Talk to a divorce solicitor
If you have questions about the divorce process, you should talk to a solicitor for advice and support.
The Law Superstore connects you with family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll guide you through the divorce process.