Families and divorce

Divorce FAQs: A guide to divorce in England and Wales

Wedding cake with a divide between the bride and groom

Find out more about the divorce process with our frequently asked questions.

This article will cover: 

How do I get divorced?

Acknowledging that your marriage has come to an end is a very difficult step for a couple to take.  Below is an explanation of the divorce process and some of the key legal points you should be aware of before you start. 

The law changed on 6 April 2022 with the aim of making the divorce process less adversarial.  Applications made before that date, and not yet completed, will follow a slightly different procedure from those made since and some of the terminology is different. 

How do I apply for a divorce?

You need to complete an application formerly known as a "divorce petition" now known as a divorce application and submit it to the court.  

Forms can be downloaded from the court’s website.  Alternatively, you can complete a divorce application online using the government’s portal here.  Your original marriage certificate will usually need to accompany your application.

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Who is the petitioner in a divorce?

The person applying for the divorce used to be called the petitioner and is now called the applicant.  Spouses can now make a joint application if they wish, meaning there may be two applicants (applicant 1 and 2).  

Who is the respondent in a divorce?

The respondent is the person, in the case of a sole application, who receives a divorce petition/application from their spouse (the applicant). (If it is a joint application, there is no respondent; just two applicants.) 

What is the process for getting divorced?

The applicant(s) (formerly, the petitioner) completes an application for divorce (formerly a petition) and submits this to the court.  The court will process the application. If the application has been made on paper, the court will send sealed copies to the applicant and the respondent (or the applicants in the case of a joint application). 

In the case of a sole application, if the application has been made online through the Government portal, the court will send the processed application to the parties either by email or post (depending on whether an email address or postal address has been provided for the purposes of communication).

In the case of a joint application, the court will send notice to the parties that the application has been processed and the parties will have 14 days to acknowledge receipt.

In the case of a sole application, the court will send the respondent a copy of the divorce application and will require the respondent to complete an acknowledgement of service form to complete to confirm they have received the divorce documentation and whether they agree to the divorce proceeding.

Once the respondent has returned the acknowledgement of service to the court, the applicant can apply for a decree nisi (if the petition/application was made before 6 April 2022) or a conditional order (if the application was made after that date).  This is the penultimate stage of the divorce process.  The conditional order (or decree nisi) means that the court is satisfied that you are entitled to a divorce.

Applications pre-6 April 2022

If your divorce application was made prior to 6 April 2022 the petitioner/applicant will need to apply for a decree nisi.  In order to apply for decree nisi, the applicant/petitioner needs to complete and return or, in the case of an online application, complete online:

  • an application for a decree nisi (paper Form D84)
  • a statement in support of divorce (paper Form D80(A-E), depending on the fact relied on in their divorce petition, which is explained below)

The application for decree nisi is self-explanatory.  The statement in support of divorce asks you to confirm that everything you said in your divorce petition remains accurate and true.  

Applications post-6 April 2022

If your divorce application was made on/after 6 April 2022 by a sole applicant, the applicant will need to apply for a conditional order either online or on paper in a form D84 no less than 20 weeks after the date of the divorce application.  The applicant(s) must confirm that the information given in the application is true.

The final stage of the divorce is called the ‘decree absolute’ in the case of applications made before 6 April 2022 and ‘final order of divorce’ in applications made after.  Six weeks and one day (43 days) after the decree nisi/the conditional order is made, the applicant(s)/petitioner can apply for decree absolute/the final order.  (In the case of a sole application made after 6 April 2022, the applicant will first have to give the respondent 14 days’ notice.)

Decree absolute/final order is the legal document which formally brings your marriage to an end. Only upon decree absolute/a final order having been made are parties divorced.

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What do I need to prove in my divorce petition to get divorced?

You need to prove to the court that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’.  This is the only ground for divorce in England and Wales.

For divorce applications (formerly, petitions) made before 6 April 2022, it was necessary to rely on one of  five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (and consent) and 5 years’ separation.

Thankfully, it is no longer necessary to cite any facts, and the application can be made without apportioning blame or waiting for 2+ years.  Parties can agree to make a joint application, simply confirming that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Is there anything else I need to be aware of when completing the divorce process?

Financial claims

It is important to reach a binding agreement as to the financial arrangements arising from your divorce, including how your assets are to be divided and whether there is to be any financial support between you.  If you are planning to divorce or your spouse has made a divorce application, you should seek advice on your financial claims as soon as possible.  Divorce does not automatically bring financial claims to an end, and you may be advised to ensure that you have a binding financial agreement before you complete the divorce process. 

Connections with another country?

If you have close connections with a country(ies) outside England (for example, if you divide your time living between the England & Wales and another country, or you are a national of another country) it will be important to consider where is the most appropriate place to start your divorce process.  The country in which you apply for a divorce will be the country in which financial claims will be resolved.  Approaches to financial claims can differ significantly between countries.

If these issues apply to you, you should take advice from a family lawyer who can assist you before you make your application. 

Who should pay for the divorce?

The petitioner/applicant is entitled to apply for their legal costs to be paid by the respondent. 

Prior to 6 April 2022, a petitioner could apply in the petition for an order that the respondent should pay the costs of the divorce (or a portion of them).  At that time, in the absence of agreement between the parties, it was common to see a petitioner in a fault-based petition (based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour) seeking costs from the respondent, although such costs were usually agreed between the parties.

In applications made after 6 April 2022, an application for costs may be made on a separate form (D11), although costs orders may be less common in the absence of fault-based applications.  

If there is a dispute as to who should pay the legal costs, the court will decide at a hearing.  This is not usually cost-effective and independent legal advice should be sought before taking this step.

Working to resolve disputes

There are a range of ways you can do this which include: mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration.  Many divorce cases do not go all the way to a final hearing in a court. If you can avoid going to court, it will likely be quicker, less stressful and save you money.

Should I tick the box to apply for a financial order?

Yes!  

Ticking this box does not initiate a formal application for the court to decide a financial settlement.  It merely reserves your right to bring a financial application in the future (or to have the court approve an agreement reached between you). 

If you do not tick this box, it might be more difficult to resolve your financial claims at a later stage, and in certain circumstances you may be barred from financial claims in the future (e.g. if you re-marry).

Do I have to tell my spouse that I am applying for a divorce?

Technically no, but it is considered best practice to tell your spouse that you are applying for a divorce, ideally no less than 7 days before.  

Contacting your spouse in advance gives you both the chance to agree on the information contained in the documentation being submitted to the court.  This will avoid having to amend your application at a later date if your spouse opposes what you have said.  Working together from the start will, hopefully, set the tone for an amicable divorce.  

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your spouse directly, you could send them a letter or an e-mail.  Alternatively, any lawyer assisting you will make contact with them on your behalf.

If you feel that you would be placed at risk by discussing your application for divorce with your spouse, then you should not do so.

Your spouse will find out eventually, as the court will send them a copy of your divorce petition once it has been received and processed.  

What should I do if my spouse does not respond to my divorce petition?

Additional steps will be needed in order to progress your divorce.  The court will either need to be satisfied that your spouse is aware you have issued divorce proceedings, or that you have made every effort to make them aware, but have been unable to trace them.

If your spouse ignores your divorce application, you can arrange to have the documentation personally served on them.  This involves a process server going to hand the documentation to them in person.  The process server will certify to the court that they have received your divorce application.  This is the proof the court needs.

Alternatively, you can ask the court to make an order that your spouse is ‘deemed’ to have received the documentation.  You will need proof that they have received your divorce application, such as a text message or an e-mail.  If granted, the order means the court is satisfied that your spouse has received your divorce application.

What should I do if my application for decree nisi/ a conditional order is rejected?

It depends on the reason for your application being rejected.  You should receive a letter (a ‘notice of refusal of judge’s certificate’) from the court explaining the reasons and what you need to do next.  For example, you may just need to answer a question raised by the judge or supply additional administrative information.

What if my spouse doesn’t agree to a divorce?

They would have to ‘defend’ the divorce proceedings.  You can still apply for decree nisi/a conditional order, but you will both need to attend a court hearing.  You may be asked to prepare formal witness statements setting out your case.

In applications made before 6 April 2022, a respondent could dispute the fact relied upon- (e.g. the alleged adultery or unreasonable behaviour), although due to the costs implications, defended divorces were very rare.

Since 6 April 2022, applications have been made on a ‘no fault’ basis.  The only bases for defending/disputing a divorce application are that the marriage was not valid or the English court does not have the power to deal with the divorce.

What happens after I receive decree absolute/final order?

Once you receive your decree absolute/final order, you are officially no longer married.

You should be aware that, as soon as you are divorced, you no longer have automatic rights of inheritance (whether under a Will or the Intestacy Rules) or some of your spouse’s pension.  It is, therefore, strongly advised to resolve a financial settlement before decree absolute/final order is pronounced.

How long does it take to get divorced?

The shortest possible timeframe under the new divorce procedure is technically 26 weeks from application to final order.  However, even if you and/or your solicitor acts promptly, there may be delays in court processing times; and don’t forget, it’s often advisable to build in time to finalise your financial arrangements and reach a binding agreement before the final order. 

The amount of time it takes will depend on your individual circumstances.  

What makes a divorce take longer?

Some factors which can slow down the divorce process are outside your control, such as the time it takes for the court to process documentation.  It might also be important to spend time agreeing a financial settlement before you apply for the decree absolute/final order, making it sensible to pause the divorce process while you negotiate or seek the court’s help to reach a resolution.  This can be time well spent to safeguard each party’s financial position.

There are steps you can both take to reduce delays.  Clear, open communication between both of you (and your lawyers, if applicable) is important to help keep the process moving forward. 

What is a ‘quickie divorce’?

A ‘quickie divorce’ is a myth;there is no such thing in England and Wales.  You may see reference to a ‘quickie divorce’ in the media when reporting that decree nisi has been made, but decree nisi (now known as a conditional order) is only the first stage in a two-stage process.  

How much will it cost to get divorced?

There is a court fee for a divorce application of £593, regardless of whether the application is made by a solicitor or not.  Sometimes the court fee will be reduced, depending on your financial circumstances.  You will need to complete a ‘Help With Fees’ form (Form EX160) to see if you are eligible. 

If you would like a lawyer to assist you with your divorce, their charges will be in addition to the court fee.  Your legal fees will depend on their rates.  

At Tees, we offer a fixed fee of £750 + VAT for a straightforward, uncontested divorce.  If your situation develops and additional legal costs will be incurred, we will let you know in advance so you don’t receive an unexpected bill.

Can I get legal aid for divorce?

Legal aid is a government scheme, where the government pays part or all of your legal costs and is now available only in limited circumstances.  In England and Wales legal aid is not available for the legal costs of divorce or dissolution, unless you are the victim of domestic abuse.

If you think you may be eligible for legal aid, you should contact a legal firm which has a legal aid contract.

If you want a lawyer at Tees to take a closer look at your situation, for a fixed fee of £150 + VAT, we can talk with you for up to 90 minutes and set out some options.


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But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

Chat to the Author, Sally Powell

Executive Partner, Bishop's Stortford office

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Sally Powell, family law specialist in Bishops Stortford
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