Deciding to get a divorce doesn’t have to be difficult and complicated. Knowing the process can prepare you for how long it might take and what you need to do.
The process can be broken down into 7 main steps.
Step 1: Make sure you can get a divorce
The first step in the divorce process is to check that you’re able to apply for a divorce. In England and Wales, in order to get divorced:
You must have been married for over a year
Your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK
The UK must be the permanent home of you and/or your spouse
Your relationship must have broken down permanently.
Read about what constitutes grounds for divorce.
Step 2: Talk to your spouse
Before you apply it’s a good idea to try and talk to your spouse. Whether or not this is possible or productive varies from situation to situation, but if possible, try to agree on:
Which reason(s) you’ll give as grounds for divorce. Remember that if you’re relying on 2 years separation with consent, both parties need to agree on this
If you can agree on these four things prior to filing for divorce, you might be able to avoid court hearings. However, the process can be emotionally taxing and all four of these points are delicate, so don’t worry if you’re not able to agree – just do what you feel comfortable with.
You can also use a mediator to help you agree on these arrangements. A mediator is an impartial third party that can help you and your spouse come to agreements on things, that may be too stressful to agree on without help. You can also get advice about making agreements from Citizens Advice.
Step 3: Prepare yourself
As well as the obvious emotional preparation that must be done prior to filing for divorce, you should also prepare on a practical level.
If you’re not a British citizen your visa status could change once you divorce. It’s a good idea to be sure of how this will affect you. Citizens Advice can help you with this, or you can consult an immigration advisor.
To keep the process running smoothly, ensure you have your marriage certificate to hand, as it will contain a lot of the information you need to fill out the divorce papers. If necessary you can order a new copy of your marriage certificate for £11.
Read more about what paperwork you need to file for divorce.
Step 4: Apply
You can apply for a divorce online or by post. Applying for divorce will cost you £550, which is payable by debit or credit card or cheque. If you’re on a low income you might be able to get help paying for this. Read more about how much a divorce costs.
There is also an option on the form to ask the court to request your partner to pay. The court may or may not agree to asking this.
In order you apply for divorce, you’ll need:
Your partner’s full name and address (this must be their current address as it will be used to send them the divorce petition). There is advice on what to do if you don’t know your spouse’s current address
Your marriage certificate (either the original certificate or a certified copy)
The address of the place you got married (this should be on your marriage certificate)
If your name has changed since you got married, you’ll need proof of the change
Your nearest Citizens Advice can help you apply for a divorce, and ensure you fill in the form correctly.
If you apply by post it’s important to make 4 copies of the form, or 5 if you’re naming someone your spouse committed adultery with. This will give you one to keep for your own records, and enough copies to be sent to all the relevant parties. It’s important to remember that if you are citing adultery as a reason and you name the person your partner committed adultery with, they’ll be sent a copy of the divorce paperwork as well.
Step 5: Await a response
Once sent off, your application will be checked and if it’s correct you’ll receive:
Notification that the application has been issued
A copy of the application stamped by the divorce centre
A case number
Your spouse will be sent a copy of the papers and an ‘acknowledgement of service’ form. They have 8 days to respond, with one of the following options:
They can agree with the divorce and its terms
They can defend the divorce (try to prevent it)
They can object to paying the costs of the divorce
If you named anyone who your spouse committed adultery with, they will also be asked to respond.
What happens if your spouse agrees?
If your spouse agrees to the divorce then the process continues as planned.
What happens if your spouse defends the divorce?
Your spouse must explain why they’re defending the divorce with an ‘answer to divorce’ form within 28 days of receiving the application. If they do not do it in time the process continues as planned. However, if they do you might need to go to court.
You may also need to go to court if they object to paying the costs of the divorce. If this is the case, both you and your spouse should seek legal advice and representation from solicitors.
However, if you are using 5 year separation as grounds for the divorce you’re unlikely to need to go to court, even if your spouse objects.
Step 6: Apply for a decree nisi
A decree nisi is the order given by the court that means the divorce can go ahead in principle. You can apply for one regardless of whether your partner defends the divorce, but bear in mind that if they do decide to defend it, you’ll have to go to a court hearing. The judge will discuss the case and decide whether to grant you a decree nisi.
You must also complete a statement to confirm that what you’ve said in your divorce petition is true – there are 5 possible statement forms, each one corresponding to a different reason for divorce.
You must also attach a copy of your partner’s response to the divorce petition.
What happens if your application if accepted?
If your application is accepted you and your partner will receive a statement declaring the date and time you’ll be granted a decree nisi.
You’ll still be married once the decree nisi has been granted. You must wait 6 weeks and 1 day (a total of 43 days) before moving onto the next step. Read more about how long a divorce takes.
What happens if your application is rejected?
You’ll be sent a notice stating why the judge has ruled you cannot get a divorce. It will also tell you what to do next – it may be as simple as the judge wanting more information. In other cases, a court hearing may be necessary.
Step 7: Apply for a decree absolute
This is the legal document that terminates the marriage.
You can apply for it after 43 days by filling in a form requesting the decree nisi to be made absolute. Your partner can apply for this instead of you, but they must wait a further 3 months after the 43 days.
If you want a legally binding arrangement for splitting property and money between you and your partner, you must apply to the court for this before you apply for the decree absolute.
Once you or your partner has applied for the decree absolute, the court will check the time limit has been met and that there are no other reasons for refusing to grant the divorce. As long as these conditions are met, the court will send you both the decree absolute and from then you are legally no longer married.
Complications to the process
There are some scenarios where the process for divorce is slightly different.
If your partner lacks mental capacity
If you apply for divorce under the reasoning of your partner lacking mental capacity, they cannot play a role in the process or agree to the divorce.
Your partner will therefore need someone to make decisions for them during the process – known as a ‘litigation friend’. It could be a family member or close friend, or, if there is no one suitable, you can apply for one to be appointed by the court. The ‘litigation friend of last resort’ is the Official Solicitor.
Find out more about applying for divorce when your partner lacks mental capacity.
If you’re married to more than one person
You’ll need to contact your regional divorce centre if you have more than one marital partner.
Applying for a divorce can be emotional and takes time, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or stressful. Choosing an experienced solicitor to help you through the process means you’ll be ready to start the next chapter in your life.