Divorce Procedure

This information sheet outlines the main steps in an uncontested divorce. The process is usually straightforward, especially if both parties agree that the marriage is over.   Any difficulties are usually in resolving the related practical issues such as how to separate, where to live, arrangements for the children and money matters.

Starting divorce proceedings

Anyone who has been married for over a year can issue proceedings provided that at least one of the couple has a permanent home within England and Wales.  It does not matter where the couple were married.  The person that starts the divorce proceedings is known as ‘the Petitioner’ and their spouse is called ‘the Respondent’.

Grounds for Divorce 

There is only one ground for divorce which is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. To satisfy the court that there has been an irretrievable breakdown, the Petitioner must prove one of the following five facts: 

(a) The Respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent. Such adultery must have been committed with a person of the opposite sex.

(b) The Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. This fact is commonly known as “unreasonable behaviour”. 

(c) The Respondent has deserted the Petitioner for a period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce. 

(d) The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce and the Respondent consents to a decree being granted. 

(e) The parties have lived apart for a period of at least five years immediately before the start of the divorce. 

The test for ‘behaviour’ is subjective and it does not need to consist of extensive or extreme behaviour and often only a brief outline of the particular behaviour needs to be given.  A few different examples will be needed.

The two year’s separation petition is a no fault petition and therefore both parties consent to the divorce proceedings and they confirm that they been separated for over two years. 

We will need your marriage certificate.  This must be lodged at Court with your divorce petition.  If you cannot locate your original, a certified copy can be obtained from the Registrar for a fee.

Divorce Petition 

Every petition follows the same format.  You’ll need to provide basic information like names, addresses, ages of the children and details of the fact relied upon to prove irretrievable breakdown.

The petition contains a section called a ‘prayer’ in which the divorce is requested.  It can also include a claim for the costs of the divorce and an order for financial provision for the parties and the children, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Petitioner will pursue those claims.

Filing the Petition 

Once the Petition has been approved and signed by the Petitioner, it is sent to the Court with the marriage certificate and a Court fee which is currently £550.00.  Some petitioners on low income are able to have this fee reduced or waived.  A copy of the Petition is sent to the Respondent, together with an Acknowledgement of Service form. 

Acknowledgement of Service 

This form will ask the Respondent if he or she intends to defend the divorce and whether they have any objection to paying Court costs.  It should be returned to the Court within seven days.

If the Respondent does not return the Acknowledgement of Service, it will be necessary to prove that the petition was received.  The Court bailiff can be instructed to deliver it personally.  

Decree Nisi 

Once the Court receives the completed Acknowledgement of Service, a sealed copy will be sent to the Petitioner. The Petitioner can then apply for the Decree Nisi.  This is the point at which the District Judge looks at the Petition and decides whether the Petitioner is entitled to a divorce. 

The Court will set a date for the formal pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.  Usually, neither party has to go to Court for that hearing.  However, if there is a dispute about the payment of costs, the Petitioner and the Respondent will be invited to attend Court so that the Judge can make a decision.  

This is only the first divorce order and the parties remain married until the Decree Absolute is made.

Decree Absolute 

The Petitioner can apply for the final order, the Decree Absolute, six weeks after the date of the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.  The Court should process the application within a week or so. 

If the Petitioner doesn’t apply for the Decree Absolute, the Respondent can apply once a further 3 months has passed.  There will be a court fee for the application.  However, if the Respondent does make the application, the Decree Absolute will not be granted automatically.  The parties will need to attend a short hearing before a District Judge who will consider whether it is reasonable for the divorce to be finalised.

Time Estimate 

In all, a divorce usually takes four to six months from start to finish.  The timing will depend on whether you delay taking any particular steps during the proceedings.  For example, you may decide to delay the application for Decree Absolute until financial disputes have been resolved.  

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