How does the divorce process work? How do you get a divorce? What typical steps might you take? And how long does it take to get a divorce? Our guide to the divorce process talks you through every stage, step by step.
Talk to your partner
If you want to get a divorce, typically the first step you should take is to try and talk to your spouse. If you want to divorce on the grounds of two years’ separation then you’ll need the agreement of your partner, otherwise you don’t need their consent.
However, agreeing the reasons for your divorce can help you to avoid conflict during the divorce process. If your spouse disagrees with the divorce, you can’t agree who pays the costs, or you fail to reach an agreement about your finances or arrangements for children, you may have to go to court. This can be a costly and lengthy process.
File a divorce petition
To proceed with a divorce, you (or your partner) must file a divorce petition with the court. You must have been married for at least one year to file a divorce petition.
You will need to outline why you believe your marriage has irretrievably broken down, and provide some grounds for your divorce. The five grounds for divorce are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation of two years with consent, separation of five years without consent, and desertion by the other spouse after two years.
You’ll also need to provide details of the respondent (your spouse) including their name and last known address.
You should then send the form to your nearest divorce centre. You can apply by post or online, and you must include either your original marriage certificate or an official copy.
There is a fee (currently £550) that you will have to pay when you send your divorce petition to the divorce centre. The person who applies for the divorce typically pays this fee.
Court sends petition to the respondent (your spouse)
Once you have submitted your divorce petition, the next step is for this to be ‘served’ on your spouse.
The divorce centre will check your divorce petition and then send this to your spouse. If they have appointed a solicitor to deal with matters, then this paperwork will be sent to the solicitor. If you have cited adultery as the ground for divorce, a copy of the petition will also be sent to this person. The court is responsible for serving the divorce petition, but you have to provide your spouse’s correct address.
Once the petition has been sent to your spouse, you will receive a Notice of Issue of Petition. This normally takes around a week.
File acknowledgement of service
Your spouse has eight days from receipt of the divorce petition to return Form D10 (acknowledgement of service) to the court. You should consider speaking to your spouse (if possible) and explaining that you have filed the divorce petition, and that they can expect to receive the acknowledgement of service.
The respondent must state whether they intend to defend the petition, if any claims for costs are disputed, and if you have reached agreement regarding arrangements for your children.
By signing and returning this form, your spouse is effectively saying that they are happy for the divorce to continue, or that they intend to defend the divorce.
Dealing with your spouse’s response
In many cases, your spouse will simply return the acknowledgement of service and state that they don’t want to contest the divorce. In this instance, your divorce can proceed.
If your spouse states that they want to contest the divorce, you have to wait 29 days from the day your spouse received the divorce petition for a response. You should generally speak to a solicitor as proceedings can then become quite complex.
If your spouse does not respond to the divorce petition, and assuming it hasn’t been returned as ‘undeliverable’, you must arrange for the petition to be served again in a way that you can prove service.
If there are issues relating to your divorce that you can’t agree on, you can consider attending mediation. A trained mediator will help you and your spouse to reach agreement on your divorce, your financial settlement, and any arrangements for your children.
Before you make an application to court regarding family issues, you are typically required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This meeting aims to establish whether mediation is a practical solution in your case, and courts a court has to know that mediation has been considered before proceedings begin.
Agree a financial settlement
If you haven’t been able to agree a financial settlement between you and your spouse, and mediation has failed, you may need to make an application to the court for ‘financial remedy’.
There are normally three stages to obtaining a financial order: the first appointment, Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) and the final hearing.
You must personally attend these appointments/hearings and the court will either help you to agree a financial settlement or will make an order if you can’t agree.
Apply for a child arrangements order
If you have children, your petition for divorce will need to include a Statement of Arrangements for children, giving details of their proposed residence and contact with the non-resident parent.
If you agree then the court can approve these arrangements. If you don’t agree, and you have failed to reach an agreement through mediation, you may have to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order. This will detail where your child should live and outline any contact arrangements.
File for decree nisi
The petitioner for the divorce applies for the ‘decree nisi’. This is the first decree of divorce. It means that the divorce petition has been accepted by the court and a judge has approved your grounds for divorce and confirmed that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.
To apply for a decree nisi, you have to complete Form D84 and Form D80A to D80E (this coincides with the five grounds for divorce and you should complete the form that correlates with the ground that you have cited).
A decree nisi does not mean your marriage has ended. This only happens on ‘decree absolute’ (see below).
Obtain the decree nisi
A judge will ensure your paperwork has been completed correctly, and that you have complied with the law and the Family Proceeding Rules. They will also need to be satisfied that any arrangements for children are in their best interests.
If the court is not satisfied with any aspect of the above your divorce will be refused, and the court will give directions as to what is required to satisfy the judge.
After the court considers your papers and confirms that it has no objections to your divorce, the decree nisi is pronounced. This is an ‘interim’ divorce certificate. You don’t have to attend court to hear the pronouncement of your decree nisi. The court will send the decree nisi to you and your spouse.
The certificate states that you are entitled to divorce and that it will be finalised after a mandatory 6-week cooling-off period. The pronouncement typically takes between 2 and 3 months from the date you first file your application for a decree nisi.
Obtain the decree absolute
There is a mandatory period of 6 weeks after the decree nisi has been made before the decree absolute can be issued.
The decree absolute may be held back if you have changed your mind and you no longer wish the divorce to continue. In addition, you can ask for the decree absolute to be postponed until any financial settlement is agreed and concluded.
Once the decree absolute is pronounced the marriage is formally over, so you may wish to ensure that any ancillary issues are dealt with before this point.
If the petitioner does not apply for the decree absolute, the respondent can make their own application three months later (so four and a half months after the decree nisi).
You must file for your decree absolute within a year of the decree nisi being pronounced, otherwise there may be further court proceedings.
The decree absolute officially dissolves your marriage. Once you receive this certificate, your marriage has legally ended.