How to Respond to a Divorce Petition in the UK?

Being served with divorce papers can be a shock – even if you're 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. 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.

Contesting a divorce petition is no longer possible.

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.

The likelihood that any of the grounds to dispute a divorce petition applying to you is low. Though you’re free to use them if they do.

So, there are only a few options you have in regards to responding to a divorce petition. These are either to agree to the divorce or to start your own divorce application.

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

Receiving a divorce petition

If your spouse applies for a 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 court proceedings. 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 carefully and make sure that all the details are correct. Take extra care with section 6, the part that sets out the reasons and details of the divorce. Reasons might include domestic abuse or unreasonable behaviour. You will then have to decide how you want to respond.

Do you have to respond to a divorce petition in the UK?

You cannot prevent a divorce. Even if you choose to not respond to a petition, there's nothing you can do to stop the divorce process. Responding with an acknowledgement within 14 days of receiving the petition is advised. Whether you choose to agree or intend to dispute the divorce is your decision.

Should you decide to not respond to the petition, your husband, wife, or spouse can prove that you've received the papers. From here, the family court with progress the divorce.

Four ways to respond to a divorce petition:

1. Agree with the divorce

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

2. Ask for amendments

You do have the option to ask for amendments to be made. This is if you think any details in the divorce are wrong or if you think accusations against you are false.

To do so, contact your spouse or their divorce lawyer. Once amended, you will then have to follow one of the other steps. Amendments to petitions incur a £90 fee.

3. Defend the petition

If you haven't reached an agreement 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 family court hearing so you should contact a family law solicitor immediately. The fee for defending a divorce is £245.

4. File for your own divorce

In 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 to the court for decree absolute making you legally divorced.

Perhaps you can’t agree on the details and the divorce is being defended or met with a cross-petition. If so, a court will decide how to resolve the issues. Once this has happened, you can proceed to the next step of the process.

How long does a divorce take in the UK?

Divorces are extremely emotional experiences. We know that you don't want the process to be any longer than it needs to be. Just how long a divorce will take is utterly determined case by case.

If you and your spouse reach agreements quickly, the divorce can run smoothly and at a faster rate. If you and your spouse disagree heavily, processes like mediation, court hearings, and more will extend the timeline.

Government data suggests that, on average, divorces in the UK can take 10 to 13 months to finish. However, these numbers don't account for application errors, delays in court, or delays from respondents.

Do you need a solicitor when responding to a divorce petition in the UK?

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 contacted family law solicitors, ask to see a schedule of costs, and if they are reasonable, agree to pay half.