Given that the decision to obtain a divorce can be monumental, the actual process is generally quite straightforward. Most of the work is done at the beginning, there are a few standard forms to complete in the middle and the end is uncomplicated. Provided your spouse doesn't wish to defend the divorce, it can be completed somewhere between four and six months.

The divorce is a separate process to sorting out the matrimonial finances and I recommend you have a look at our pages regarding financial matters.

You must have been married a year before divorce proceedings can be issued.

The only ground for divorce in the UK is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. To prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you will need to establish one of these five options:

  1. that your spouse has committed adultery;
  2. that your spouse has behaved unreasonably;
  3. your spouse deserted you at least two years ago;
  4. you and your spouse have lived separately at least two years and you both consent to the divorce;
  5. you and your spouse have lived separately at least five years.

All this information is set out with evidence in the petition which is the form used to provide information about your marriage and children in your care.

You will also need to provide your original marriage certificate which will not be returned to you. If you cannot find the original and cannot obtain a certified copy from the Register Office, there are applications you can make and I suggest you contact me for assistance. If your marriage certificate is not written in English, you will need to also provide a certified translation.

Proceedings are usually issued at your local Family Court. The Court will charge a fee of £410.00 (although this fee may be changed in the future). The court allocates a number to the proceedings.

During the proceedings, you are referred to as the Petitioner and your spouse is the Respondent.

Once the Court has issued the proceedings, the Respondent will be sent a copy of your petition and a standard form called the Acknowledgement of Service. The Respondent is expected to complete and return the Acknowledgement within seven days to confirm receipt of the papers and whether the divorce is opposed. Once the Court receives it, a copy will be forwarded to you.

If no Acknowledgement is received, you can arrange for Bailiff Service. This means that the court bailiff will hand deliver the documents to the Respondent personally. There is a fee for this service.

If bailiff service fails, you can apply for other orders:

  • for Substituted Service. This means that divorce documents are delivered to someone other than the Respondent, who is likely to ensure the Respondent is made aware, eg their mother;
  • for Deemed Service when the court concludes that the Respondent has been served even though there has been no acknowledgement;
  • for dispensing with service – when all reasonable attempts to serve has failed the court can allow the divorce to continue even though the respondent apparently does not know about it.

The judge will consider all the papers and decide whether there is enough evidence to grant a divorce. If so, a Certificate of Entitlement will be issued to confirm the court is satisfied that a divorce can be granted. If there are children of the family, the Court will also send you a certificate which says the Judge has decided that the divorce doesn't need to be delayed on account of the children. The court will arrange a date and time for Decree Nisi to be pronounced. You do not need to attend court for the pronouncement.

Both you and the Respondent will receive a copy of the Decree Nisi - the actual wording will depend on which fact you relied upon in your petition. It will confirm that this is not the final Decree. If you asked for an order that the Respondent should pay for the costs of your divorce and the Court agreed, you will both also receive an order stating how much the Respondent should pay.

You will need to apply for Decree Nisi to be made Absolute. You cannot make this application until six weeks and one day has passed since the date your Decree Nisi was pronounced.

If you are the Respondent and the Petitioner has not already applied for the Decree Absolute, you need to wait a further three months before you can apply for the Decree Absolute.

Sometimes the application for Decree Absolute is delayed more than 12 months after the Decree Nisi. This might be because the couple attempted a reconciliation or took some time to resolve financial disputes.

The Decree Absolute concludes the proceedings and ends the marriage. An original document is sent to both you and the Respondent which replaces your marriage certificate.

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