How to respond to a divorce petition

Being served with divorce papers can be a shock – even if you were expecting it. The divorce petition will mark the beginning of the divorce, and it’s up to you to take the next step. Ignoring the petition won’t make it go away, and the sooner you decide on a course of action, whether the split is amicable or not, the easier it will be.

No fault divorce update

New divorce legislation came into effect on 6 April 2022 that has changed the divorce process.

It’s no longer possible to contest a divorce petition.

This means that your options when responding to a divorce petition are limited.

You can dispute a divorce petition on technical legal grounds, like if you weren’t legitimately married. But you can’t contest it simply because you don’t want to get divorced.

It’s unlikely that any of the grounds to a dispute a divorce petition will apply to you (though you’re free to use them if they do).

So, in practice, the only options you have when it comes to responding to a divorce petition are either to agree to the divorce or to start your own divorce application.

For more information about the no fault divorce process, read our guide: No fault divorce: Everything you need to know.


Receiving a divorce petition

If your spouse files for divorce, you’ll receive a divorce petition in the post. As the receiver of the petition, you become known as “the respondent” throughout the divorce proceedings, while your husband or wife is known as “the petitioner”. Once you’ve received the petition, you have 8 days to return the acknowledgement of service form to the court. If you don’t respond within this time, the divorce might be able to go ahead anyway.

It is important that you read the petition very carefully and make sure that all of the details are correct. Take extra care with section 6, the part that sets out the reasons and details of the divorce. You will then have to decide how you want to respond.

Four ways to respond to a divorce petition:

1. Agree with the divorce

If you can decide all of the details with your spouse beforehand, this is the quickest and cheapest option. Double check all of the divorce details and then agree to the divorce in the acknowledgement of service form within 8 days.

2. Ask for amendments

If you think some of the details of the divorce are wrong or if the accusations against you are false or inaccurate, you can ask for amendments to be made. To do so, contact your spouse or their solicitor. Once amended, you will then have to follow one of the other steps. There is a £90 fee for amendments to petitions.

3. Defend the petition

If you don’t agree with the details of a divorce, you can defend it. Once you have returned your acknowledgement of service form, you have a further 21 days to explain why you are defending the divorce. This is called giving an answer. It will involve a court hearing so you should contact a solicitor immediately. The fee for defending a divorce is £245.

4. File for your own divorce

In very complex situations such as a childcare dispute, you may want to petition for your own divorce. This will also include a court hearing so you should seek legal advice. You will have to pay the £593 divorce petition fee.

What happens next?

If you agree to the divorce, you and your husband or wife can then apply for the next step in divorce proceedings – decree nisi. After a further 6 weeks, you can then apply for decree absolute making you legally divorced. If you can’t agree on the details and the divorce is being defended or met with a cross-petition, a court will decide how to resolve the issues. Once this has happened, you can proceed to the next step of the process.

Do you need a solicitor?

An experienced divorce solicitor will be able to explain the process, the fees, and any legal jargon to you. If you have to attend court, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

The process for deciding childcare and financial arrangements are separate to a divorce. But if you and your spouse can decide these details before you start the process, it will often make your divorce much easier and less expensive. If you can’t agree, you will have to get a solicitor and you might have to attend a court hearing. Some things to think about:

  • The grounds for divorce that you will use
  • If you have any children, what will you do about childcare
  • What will happen to any finances you share
  • If you own property together, you must decide how to split it

It is standard practice for the petitioner to claim for the fees against the respondent. Once again, if you can agree on this before it will make the process easier. If your spouse has a solicitor ask to see a schedule of costs, and if they are reasonable, agree to pay half.


Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.

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