How To… Get A Divorce


Getting the right advice and preparing yourself for a divorce can be a daunting prospect. With 42% of marriages in the UK ending in divorce - it's important to know your rights and how to get a divorce.

Infographic: How to get a divorce

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What is the divorce process?

There are 3 stages to a divorce:
  • Divorce petition
  • Decree nisi
  • Decree absolute

In this guide we will take you step-by-step through the whole process:

Stage 1 - Divorce petition

A divorce petition is your application to the court for permission to divorce. You need to show that there has been an 'irretrievable breakdown' in your marriage caused by any of the following:
  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion - your spouse has left you without your agreement, without good reason and with the intention to end your relationship for more than 2 years in past 2½ years
  • You have lived apart for at least 2 years and both of you agree to the divorce
  • You have lived apart for at least 5 years - even if your spouse disagrees with the divorce

If you have children, you will also need to complete a 'statement of arrangements for children' form, setting out what you and your spouse will do in regards to childcare, maintenance and contact.

The court will then send a copy of your divorce petition to your spouse, together with an acknowledgement of service form and a notice of proceedings form, which explains what to do next.

Does your partner agree to the divorce? If they do, then they need to fill in and send the acknowledgement of service form back to the court within 8 days. If your spouse does not respond within 21 days then you can continue with the divorce as though they've agreed, but you will need to prove our spouse has received the court papers. To do this you will have to employ either a court bailiff or a private service agent to personally serve the papers to your spouse.

However, if your partner does not agree to the divorce they must still complete the form and return it within 8 days. Once they have returned this form they have 21 days in which to say why they are defending the divorce by completing an 'answer to the divorce petition' form. You may then have to attend a court hearing to discuss the case and come to an agreement.

Stage 2 - Decree nisi

Once your spouse agrees to the petition, or has been personally served with the petition, you can apply for the decree nisi. You will need to complete an application form and a statement form depending on your grounds for divorce. Ensure that you also include your spouse's response (if any) to the divorce petition.

Once the judge is satisfied they will send you your decree nisi, which confirms that the court sees no reason why you can't divorce.

Alternatively, the judge may reject your application for a decree nisi. You will be sent a form explaining why you can't divorce and what you should do next - for example, provide further information or attend a court hearing. If you have not already done so, now would be a good time to get legal advice.

Stage 3 - Decree absolute

You can apply for your decree absolute 6 weeks after your decree nisi. The decree absolute legally ends your marriage.

During those 6 weeks you can discuss finances and assets before the marriage ends. Work with your solicitor to come to an amicable agreement with your ex-partner.

To apply for your decree absolute, complete the 'notice of application for decree nisi to be made absolute' form. If you were not the spouse who filled in the divorce petition, you can still apply for the decree absolute, but you will have to wait before applying.

Do I Need a Solicitor?

A court will first recommend you attend mediation if you cannot agree on who should get what.

A mediator is an impartial person that will aim to get the best outcome for both parties but they cannot offer legal advice. Seeing a mediator avoids you having to go to court and paying expensive fees. It will also save you time that lengthy court hearings can take and also be less stressful.

However, if you both cannot come to an agreement during mediation, then you may need to seek legal advice and support from a solicitor. This is even more important if there are assets, property and children involved.

Your solicitor will explain the divorce process, start the divorce action and keep you informed of how it is progressing. They will liaise with your spouse's solicitors and the courts and act on your behalf. It is important that you tell your solicitor openly about your assets and arrangements for your children. They will help you to reach an agreement in regards to the family home, finances and child custody.

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