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 believe your marriage/civil partnership is over and you want to get divorced or obtain a dissolution, the first step is to try and talk with your spouse. If you want to end your marriage or civil partnership, you can apply to do so jointly or individually.
If you agree with your spouse about wanting a divorce, you could make the divorce application jointly. Agreeing to make the divorce application together could help you avoid conflict during the rest of the process surrounding children or your finances.
Apply for divorce
To make an application, whether this is a sole or joint application, you have two main options: 1) use the government’s online portal and do it yourself, 2) use a solicitor to apply for you.
Sole applications can be made online through the government’s digital service or on paper using Form D8. If you are represented by a solicitor, the digital service must be used to make the application. The digital system asks for the same information on Form D8 and follows the same process as the paper forms.
There is a court fee for this service which is currently set at £593, although if you have little or no savings, are in receipt at certain benefits or have a low income, then you may be able to get Help with Fees by completing Form EX160. The person who applies for the divorce typically pays this fee, and with joint applications, you will either have to agree between you who pays the fee or, for digital applications, applicant 1 will be responsible. On paper applications, either applicant may insert their details on the court fee page.
There is a mandatory minimum 20-week 'reflection' period after the application is made for the couple to consider whether they want the divorce to continue. Once this time has elapsed, they can apply for a conditional order (see the 'Apply for a conditional order' section below).
Court sends divorce application to the respondent (your spouse)
For sole applications, once you have submitted your divorce application, the next step is for this to be ‘served’ on your spouse.
The respondent will receive an email notification that an application for divorce has been made. This will be followed up by a postal notification giving a date they need to respond by. If the respondent does not have a solicitor, they will need to: 1) create an online divorce account, 2) enter the reference number shown on the letter/email, for example: 1646-7549-0007-3107, 3) enter their access code shown on the email. This will look something like: PL36H8VB, and 4) review the information on the divorce application and respond to the application.
If the respondent does not have online access, they are asked to contact the court using the details provided on the notification letter and to request a paper response form. The respondent must complete the response form within 14 days of receiving the divorce application.
The applicant will receive an email notification when the respondent replies. If they do not respond, the court will inform you.
For joint applications, both parties are emailed by the court confirming the divorce application has been checked and allocated a reference number. You will both need to acknowledge receipt of the respective emails, so the court knows you have received and read it. You do this by signing into the divorce account link within the email.
Disputing a divorce application
A divorce application can only be disputed in limited circumstances such as jurisdiction grounds (e.g. neither party has a connection to England or Wales), or that the marriage is not valid, or that the marriage has already legally ended, or on grounds of fraud or procedural compliance
If you dispute the divorce application, you have 21 days to submit your answer from the date the acknowledgement of service must be filed. This is 14 days from the date the application was served on you.
If you do not submit the answer by the deadline, the applicant will usually be able to continue with the divorce/dissolution as if it was not disputed.
There is an administrative fee to pay for disputing a divorce application.
If there are issues surrounding your divorce that you cannot agree upon, you might consider attending mediation. A trained mediator will help you and your spouse to reach an agreement about your finances or any arrangements for your children.
Before you make an application to court regarding financial or children 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 informs the court that mediation has at least been considered before proceedings begin.
Agree a financial settlement
If you could not agree on a financial settlement between you and your spouse, and mediation has failed, you may need to apply to the court for consideration of a ‘financial remedy.’
There are generally 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 agree a financial settlement or will make an order if you cannot agree.
Apply for a child arrangements order
If you have children, your divorce application 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, the court can approve these arrangements. If you do not agree, and you have failed to reach an agreement via mediation, you may have to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order. This will set out where your child will live and outline any contact arrangements.
Apply for a conditional order
The next step in the divorce process is to confirm that you want the divorce to continue by applying for a ‘conditional order.’ There is a compulsory minimum wait of 20-weeks between when you apply for the divorce and when you can apply for the conditional order.
The conditional order application is made on Form D84. Sole applicants need to complete Sections A, C and D, and joint applicants should complete Sections B, C and D of the same form.
Obtaining the conditional order
The court will then send out a certificate of entitlement to a conditional order certifying that the applicant(s) is entitled to:
1) a conditional order on the ground that their marriage has broken down irretrievably, and 2) a financial order as agreed or ordered between the applicant and the respondent.
Obtaining the final order
Six weeks and a day after the date the conditional order was granted, the applicant can apply for the final order. This is done in Form D36, or if you made a joint application for the conditional order but wish to make a sole application at this stage, Form D36A should be completed instead.
The court will then send you and the respondent the Final Order certifying that the marriage or civil partnership has legally ended.