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How to get a divorce

The breakdown of a relationship is a difficult time, and when marriage is involved this also means going through the pain of divorce. At First4Lawyers we aim to make this as easy and pain-free as we can for you. This guide provides information on how to get a divorce in the UK. 

In order to get a divorce in England or Wales your relationship will not only have to be permanently broken down, and you will need to have been married for at least a year. 

Your marriage - including same sex marriages - must be legally recognised in the UK. You will usually need to have a permanent home in England or Wales, but there are some exceptions to this.   See form D8, divorce application published by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The law differs when getting divorced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland for example, there is a higher burden of proof, but you can divorce without consent after two years, whereas in England/Wales it is five years. 

The circumstances of your divorce will also depend on a number of factors, such as whether you have children or property together, and all this will need to be considered. 

Grounds for divorce

In England and Wales, there are five circumstances which are considered to be grounds for divorce, and you will need one of these in order to prove that your relationship has irretrievably broken down. This means that you have to prove there is no way to fix your relationship. 

 The five grounds for divorce:
  1. Adultery, i.e. one of you has cheated 
  2. Desertion, i.e. your partner has left you
  3. Unreasonable behaviour
  4. You both agree to the divorce and you have lived apart for at least two years 
  5. You don’t both agree, but you have lived apart for at least five years
You will need to choose one of these reasons in order to be granted a divorce. Only the first three options are available if you have been married for less than two years.

Steps to getting a divorce

Filing a divorce application:

In order to apply for a divorce you must send a divorce petition form to your nearest divorce centre. Your petition must include:
  • your full name and address
  • full name and address of your husband or wife. If you don’t know their current address it is possible to include their last known address instead. 
  • your original marriage certificate, or a copy obtained from the register office.
You can choose to include information on your children, or if the marriage is ending due to adultery you can choose to name the other party. But bear in mind if you do choose to do this, the other party will also receive copies of the paperwork.  

The divorce papers should be sent to your nearest divorce centre, together with a fee of £550. You must send three copies of the divorce petition, or four if you wish to name the person your husband or wife committed adultery with. 

Next steps:

Once you have sent the divorce form, it will be checked by your nearest divorce centre and they will send a copy over to your partner, to give them a chance to respond. They will include a form for your partner to return, this is known as the Acknowledgement of Service form. The divorce centre will inform you in writing when they have done this. 

By law the Respondent must return the form within eight days, indicating whether or not they intend to dispute the proceedings. If they wish to dispute it, they must file an ‘Answer to a divorce petition’ form within a further 21 days of returning the Acknowledgement of Service. 

Following this, the court will then send the Applicant (you) a copy of the Acknowledgement of Service. The Applicant must then swear under oath (an Affidavit) that the facts in the original application are correct. The Affidavit and the signed Acknowledgement of Service are both then sent to the court. 

Decree Nisi
Once the court is satisfied with the documentation a date will be set for the Decree Nisi to be pronounced in court. A Decree Nisi is an order by the court that states the date that the marriage will end. Usually there is no need for the parties to attend court to hear the Decree Nisi pronounced, unless there is a dispute over a cost order.

Decree Absolute
The Applicant can apply for a Decree Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi is pronounced. If they fail to do so, then the Respondent may apply three months later. To apply for a Decree Absolute you must complete a D36 standard application form. 

Once the Decree Absolute has been granted and sealed by the court the parties will be officially divorced. Remember to keep this document safe, as it is important and may be required in the future to prove you are divorced.

How long does a divorce take?

The time it takes for a divorce to finalise can vary depending on disagreements and agreements between the two parties. If the separation is mutual and you both agree on the details then it will be a much quicker process than if you disagree. 

A divorce can take as little as four to six months, but if there are disagreements and delays it can take much longer. 

How much does a divorce cost?

Divorce varies in cost and court fees vary from county to county in the UK.

There is an initial £550 court fee to file for divorce. Alternatively, if you don’t want to end your marriage or civil partnership completely, perhaps for religious reasons, you could pay a £365 court fee to file for judicial separation. 

In addition you may want to make an application for a Consent Order, which legally binds any financial agreements between you, this costs £100. Or for £255 you could make an application for a Financial Order, which allows the courts to decide how your finances should be divided if you are unable to decide between you. 

Solicitor costs:
If both parties agree to the divorce, there is often no need to involve a solicitor. However, if there are disagreements between the two parties then a solicitor is a good idea to represent you in court, or to just to offer legal support as part of the process. Solicitors legal fees vary depending on the complexity of the divorce. 

Legal aid
Unfortunately, you can no longer get legal aid for divorce cases, unless it involves domestic violence or child abduction. However, there may be help available for mediation costs. The government website can provide more information on this. 

Why should I get a solicitor? 

For many, the idea of using a solicitor can be a daunting idea. However, in cases of divorce (especially where there are disagreements), it is often in your best interests to have a solicitor guide you and advise you throughout the process and:
  • Help you to fill out any necessary forms.
  • Keep you updated and represent your best interests.
  • Help you come to an agreement, where practical, with your ex-partner (preferably without having to go to court).
  • Present your case in court, if it does require it.
  • Help you understand what the judge can do, and what the judge’s decision means for you.

If you are at risk of domestic abuse, your solicitor can ensure that you and your children are kept safe.  They can also help you with other matters related to your divorce, such as selling your house. However if you do not need, or cannot afford, them at every step then that is okay. A consultation with a solicitor early in the divorce proceedings will help you understand the best way forward. 

 First4Lawyers are here to help, our specialist solicitors can help with all your divorce needs, just get in touch for a no obligation chat.  

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not legal advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4Lawyers’ guides alone.