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How to File For Divorce in England & Wales

Thinking of filing for divorce? Read our guide on how to file for divorce without the help of solicitors to ensure you avoid common mistakes and gain confidence in navigating the divorce process yourself.

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    The most common consideration couples have when applying for divorce is whether to do a DIY divorce or have professionals help them.

    There are many pros and cons to both options, however, it’s important you understand how to file for divorce yourself before making any decisions.

    Before you file for divorce, consider doing it online; there are a number of benefits to getting a divorce online, none more so than not having to complete any paperwork or forms.

    You should read our comparison of Divorce-Online vs DIY Divorce as a first step to get a quick overview of the pros and cons of each option.

    What are the requirements to get divorced?

    To get an amicable divorce you need to be able to answer yes to the following questions:

    • Have you been married for a year or longer?
    • Do you permanently live in England or Wales or are you domiciled in England or Wales if you live abroad?
    • Is your marriage legally recognised in the UK – including same-sex marriage?
    • Has your relationship permanently broken down?

    You can still get an online divorce if you live abroad, we just advise speaking to us first before applying for divorce.

    Before you file for divorce

    Firstly please note – If you are ending a civil relationship, though very similar the process is slightly different. The process is also different if you want to get divorced in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

    A new divorce law came into legal force in England and Wales on 6 April 2022, which now facilitates a no-fault divorce.

    One significant change is that filing for divorce no longer has to be initiated by one partner alone. A couple can now make a joint application for divorce.

    Consequently, the first decision you need to make is whether you want to make a joint application with your spouse or apply on your own.

    You should also know it will now take a minimum of 6 months to get a divorce, and it’s the same length of time for joint and sole applications.

    What are the five stages of the divorce process?

    Since the new divorce law came into force for England and Wales in April 2022 there are 5 stages of divorce that need to be followed in strict order to obtain a divorce.

    The 5 key stages of the divorce process are as follows:

    1. The petition – the divorce application
    2. The Response – after you file for divorce
    3. Apply for a conditional order
    4. Conditional order – after you apply
    5. Pronouncement of the final order – finalise your divorce

    1. The petition – the divorce application

    To file divorce papers, you’ll need to do the following:

    • File a D8 Divorce Petition Form
    • Provide the original marriage certificate or a certified translated version if it’s not written in English
    • Provide proof of your name change if it’s changed since you got married – for example your marriage certificate or a legal deed poll document
    • Pay court fees – A payment of £593 is required to apply for a divorce

    The filing of the divorce petition form D8 means you are formally asking the court for permission to divorce.

    Your fee will not be refunded after you are sent the notice that your divorce application has been issued.

    Please note that you also need to provide the court with both your own and your husband or wife’s full name and address.

    You must try to find your husband or wife’s current address if you do not know it because the court will need to send them a copy of the divorce application.

    In terms of divorce fees, it will depend on your specific circumstances and the relationship with your ex-spouse. Who pays the legal fees in a divorce is not always straightforward, but in most cases, it will fall on the person applying (Applicant).

    2. The Response & Reflection Period

    There is a mandatory reflection period of 20 weeks that kicks in once the divorce application has been submitted.

    Although you now no longer require the consent of your spouse to get divorced, the process is still smoother if they respond to the court when asked.

    The respondent (your ex-partner), usually has up to 14 days to respond to the court.

    3. Apply for a conditional order

    A conditional order (previously called decree nisi – the first decree in divorce proceedings) is a document that confirms that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce.

    There is now a minimum waiting period of 20 weeks (referred to as a reflection period) from when your divorce application has been issued at the start of divorce proceedings to when an application can be made to the court for a conditional order.

    This so called ‘reflection period’ is designed to provide an opportunity for couples to reconcile or agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible, and divorce is inevitable. Such matters could include child arrangements and the division of assets like property or pensions.

    You can apply for a conditional order and continue with the divorce as a sole applicant, even if you started the divorce process jointly with your spouse.

    At this stage, you (the Applicant) are formally asking the court to proceed with the divorce. You apply for a conditional order by submitting an application form D84 together with a supporting statement which verifies that the contents of the divorce application are true.

    4. Conditional order – after you apply

    The court reviews your application and if the judge agrees, the court will issue you and your spouse with a ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ to confirm the date that your conditional order was granted (pronouncement of the conditional order).

    Both parties also receive a Court Order stating that the conditional order has been pronounced and this will typically take a few weeks.

    You will still be married, even after the conditional order has been pronounced. To officially end the marriage, you will have to apply to finalise the divorce by submitting form D36 ‘Notice of Application’ for the conditional order to be made Final.

    5. Pronouncement of final order – finalise your divorce

    The last of the 5 stages of divorce is the pronouncement of the final order which is made once the court has received form D36 – the Notice of Application for conditional order to be made Final. You can apply for a final order as a sole applicant, even if you started the divorce process jointly with your spouse.

    You can only apply for a final order (previously called decree absolute) after waiting at least 6 weeks + 1 day from the date of the conditional order. However, you should apply within 12 months from the date of the conditional order to avoid having to explain the delay to the court.

    Before pronouncing of the final order the court will check that the above time limits have been met and that there are no other reasons not to grant the divorce.

    Once you receive the pronouncement of the final order, you are officially divorced, no longer married, and free to marry again if you wish.

    Points to note:

    • The court will send both parties copies of the final order. If you have a solicitor acting for you the final order will be sent directly to them, and you will need to ask them for a copy.
    • Keep the final order safe – you will need to show it if you remarry or have to prove your marital status and if you lose it you can apply to the court for a duplicate.
    • If you applied for divorce as a sole applicant and do not apply to finalise the divorce your spouse can apply, but they have to wait an additional 3 months after the standard 6 weeks + 1 day.
    • If you want a legally binding arrangement for dividing assets, money, pensions and property you must apply to the court for a consent order to be made.
    • The typical timescale for a divorce in England and Wales is 6-7 months, assuming there are no delays from the court or your ex-partner.

    How to deal with your finances in divorce

    Contrary to popular belief, obtaining a divorce does not sever your financial ties or ongoing commitments to or from your ex-spouse, it merely dissolves your marriage.

    Dealing with your finances at the same time as your divorce is the only legal way to guarantee that neither party can claim against the other in the future.

    The mistake many couples make when filing for divorce is that they fail to obtain a financial consent order to legally separate assets and finances.

    Unfortunately, they wrongly believe that because they have an amicable relationship with their former spouse it’s unnecessary, or they believe that getting a divorce means the finances are automatically sorted.

    How do I divorce someone who lives in another country?

    Many British nationals get married abroad, either to another British citizen or to a foreign national. So, can you divorce someone who lives in a different country under UK divorce law?

    Yes, the process of filing for divorce in England and Wales is the same regardless of where the marriage took place domestically or overseas.

    Provided the international marriage was conducted lawfully and at least one spouse is still considered to be habitually resident or domiciled in the UK, it will generally be possible to get divorced in the UK.

    British nationals who have left the UK to go and live abroad temporarily will normally be considered to still be habitually domiciled in the UK.

    However, if they have decided to leave the UK permanently (e.g., they have obtained citizenship of another country) then they probably will not be considered habitually domiciled in the UK.

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