The Divorce Process Explained

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The divorce process in England and Wales varies depending on whether you are the person who starts divorce proceedings, known as the Divorce Petitioner or the person who receives the divorce proceedings, known as the Divorce Respondent.

The process is also different depending on whether the divorce is defended or not. A defended divorce is more commonly known as a contested divorce but an undefended divorce is usually called an uncontested divorce.

If you both agree to the divorce and you have no financial ties or children matters to resolve, the divorce process is relatively straightforward. But that’s unusual. There are normally properties and belongings to divide and arrangements for children to agree on.

Whatever the circumstances of your divorce, our national team of Divorce Solicitors and Lawyers can help you.  Because we can tailor our service to your needs, you get the right level of support from your Divorce Solicitor. This could be a one-hour consultation with a Divorce Solicitor to find out where you stand, to a fully managed divorce.

Whatever your needs are, get in touch with our Divorce Solicitors.

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This information applies in England and Wales, but we can still help you if you or your former partner have been living abroad.

Can I Apply For A Divorce?

You can only start the divorce process if you have been married for a year. You must also prove that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. This is the only ground for divorce.

Once you’ve confirmed that your marriage has broken down, you must give a reason for the break down. There are five reasons and you must use one of them. They are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • You have been separated for two years and you both agree to divorce
  • You have been separated for five years
  • Desertion

As long as one of these five reasons apply, you can start the divorce process.

Before you start the process, you should decide who will be the Petitioner and who will be the Respondent. The Petitioner is the person who submits the Divorce Petition to Court and who pays the Court fees and their own initial costs unless an alternative is agreed.

In certain situations, you cannot be the Petitioner – for example, if you’re getting divorced on the basis of adultery and you were the one who committed the adultery.  But, in those circumstances, you could be the Petitioner if you divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour.

Having discussions about who will be the Petitioner and Respondent largely depend on the relationship you have with your former partner. If your marriage breakdown was acrimonious or very one-sided, it may not be possible to decide this together. You will need to decide how to respond though. Speaking to a Divorce Solicitor will help you to be clear about your options and the costs involved.

The Divorce Petitioner

If you are the Divorce Petitioner, you must decide if you want to apply for your divorce online. If you are using a Divorce Solicitor, they can only apply by post, but they will complete all the paperwork for you and make sure you meet all deadlines.

There are some very good reasons to use a Divorce Solicitor to help you in your divorce. You can read more in our article, Five Reasons You Both Need a Divorce Solicitor.

As the Divorce Petitioner, you must fill out a Divorce Petition (form D8) and state one of the five reasons for your divorce. The form will include information on who should pay the divorce costs and whether you want to apply for a Financial Order. A Financial Order will specify the financial arrangements between you and your former partner after you divorce.

If you’re applying by post, you must make four copies of this form. Keep one for yourself and send the other three to your nearest divorce centre. You’ll also need to include your original marriage certificate and pay the Court fee of £550.

As long as you complete all the required steps and the paperwork is correct, the Court will send a copy of the Divorce Petition to your former partner, known as the Respondent. You will be notified when this happens.

The Divorce Respondent

If you are the Divorce Respondent, you will receive a copy of the Divorce Petition completed by your former partner. This will be sent to you from the Court. They will also send you an Acknowledgement of Service form. On this form, you must state if you agree to the divorce. If you don’t you must confirm that you want to defend the divorce. This is called a contested divorce.

You should consider carefully before you decide to contest the divorce as a contested divorce costs much more and will take much longer. If you’re not sure, speak to a specialist Divorce Solicitor for advice.

You must complete and return the Acknowledgement of Service form.  How you reply to the Acknowledgement of Service depends on how your former partner applied for the divorce. If they applied online, you have seven days to complete the form and respond online. If they applied by post, you have eight days to complete and return to the divorce centre.

What Happens Next?

What happens next really depends on the Respondent. This could be you or your former partner.

If the Respondent returns the Acknowledgement of Service form and contests the divorce, they have 21 days to fill out and return another form called an ‘Answer’. After this there will be a Court hearing.

If the Respondent returns the Acknowledgement of Service form and agrees to the divorce, the Petitioner can proceed to the next stage. This is applying for a Decree Nisi.

If you are the Petitioner, you’ll know whether the divorce is contested or not because the Court will send you a copy of the Acknowledgement of Service form.

If the Respondent doesn’t return the Acknowledgement of Service form, the Petitioner can arrange to have the Divorce Petition personally served by a process server. This is to prove that the Respondent has actually received the paperwork. Once served, the Petitioner can move to the next stage and can apply for a Decree Nisi.

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Applying for a Decree Nisi as the Petitioner

If the divorce is uncontested, the Petitioner can apply for a Decree Nisi. To do this, you will fill out an application for a Decree Nisi (form D84). You also need to complete an accompanying statement (Form D80). These need to be sent to the Court, along with a copy of the Acknowledgement of Service form if personally signed by the Respondent.

The forms will be reviewed by a Judge who will set a date for the pronouncement of your Decree Nisi as long as all the paperwork is in order. This means it is announced in Court, but you don’t have to be there.

If your application for a Decree Nisi is rejected, the Court will tell you what to do next.

Applying for a Decree Absolute as the Petitioner

You will be told the date when your Decree Nisi will be issued. Once that date has passed, you can submit any agreed Financial Orders for approval by the Court. Financial Orders are used to settle the division of your matrimonial assets and liabilities. They are very important as they cut the financial ties with your former partner and can impose a “clean break”.

You cannot apply for the Decree Absolute until 6 weeks plus 1 day have passed since your Decree Nisi was granted. Once this time period is up, you’ll need to complete form D36 and send it to the Court. Again, a Judge will review everything and decide whether the marriage can be dissolved.  

If the Judge agrees, you will both be sent a Decree Absolute.  This means your divorce is finalised and your marriage is over. But the financial ties between you and your ex will not end until a Financial Order has been approved by a Judge. A Decree Absolute should be delayed until a Financial Order has been agreed. If you don’t, you could lose out on key spousal benefits in some situations so you should wait for the Financial Order to be sealed by the Court.

Applying for a Decree Absolute as a Divorce Respondent

If you are the Respondent in a divorce, you can also apply for a Decree Absolute. But you must wait 6 weeks plus 1 day to make sure the Petitioner doesn’t apply. You also have to wait another three months before making the application for a Decree Absolute.  If the Petitioner objects, the Judge will list a hearing to resolve the issue.

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