The Divorce Process in England & Wales Explained
If your marriage has irretrievably broken down and you wish to divorce your spouse, you’ll need to follow the divorce procedure to obtain a decree absolute.
You can get a divorce without hiring a solicitor or visiting court if both parties are in agreement to the divorce and the reasons why.
If both parties agree to the divorce and the reasons why, getting a divorce legally finalised should take 4 to 6 months, sometimes quicker if you use our Managed Divorce Service.
Use this information as a guide to the divorce procedure as the court staff cannot provide legal advice or suggest which options are best for you, they simply process your papers through court.
Important: You cannot begin the divorce procedure within the first year of marriage.
What you need to know about the divorce process
- What is the first step in the divorce process
- What are the grounds for starting divorce proceedings
- What are the court fees in divorce
- How Divorce-Online can help you with divorce
- How long does the divorce process take
What is the first step in the divorce process?
The Divorce Process Guide
Issue divorce petition (D8)
£550 court fee
The court sends petition to respondent
If respondent fails to respond to the acknowledgment of service
If the respondent files an acknowledgment of service back to court
*Petitioner arranges to have the documents personally served on the Respondent. Or, other applications to the court can be made for the other types of service.
The court sends a copy of the Respondent's acknowledgement of service to petitioner
The petitioner files for decree nisi and provides a statement in support of divorce.
District judge considers the petition. If the grounds are accepted, the petition gets listed in the judge's list for pronouncement of decree nisi.
Decree nisi pronounced.
Petitioner can apply for decree absolute after a minimum wait of six weeks and 1 day.
If the petitioner does not apply for the decree absolute, after 4.5 months the respondent can apply to court for the decree absolute, but a fee is payable
The petitioner applies for decree absolute
Hearing before a judge on application for decree absolute
Cannot obtain decree absolute until outstanding matters (including ancillary matters) are finalised.
Decree absolute is issued
(you are now divorced)
The first step in any divorce procedure is the filing of the divorce petition (form D8).
Once the court send your spouse a copy of the divorce petition, you become the Petitioner and your ex-partner becomes known as the Respondent.
There is a criteria to meet set by the court before they will process your divorce, which means you must pay the court fee of £550 and attach your marriage certificate translated in English if it isn’t already.
We've outlined the 4 main stages of the divorce process, which you can follow yourself to obtain a divorce.
1. File a Divorce Petition
The divorce process starts with the filing of a divorce petition (form D8), which is completed by the Petitioner and filed with a regional divorce centre.
The divorce petition must set out the reason for the divorce (why your marriage broke down), how you intend to deal with any children and any arrangement you've made for finances.
At this stage you'll also need to pay the court fee of £550.00 (unless you are on a low-income or receive certain benefits, as you may be entitled to court fee remission).
When submitting your divorce petition, you will need to provide the court with your marriage certificate. If you were married abroad, the certificate must be translated into English before divorce proceedings can commence.
The D8 divorce petition is the main document in the divorce procedure and is therefore essential that you complete this document correctly.
2. Acknowledgement of Service
The second stage of divorce proceedings involves the court sending a copy of the divorce petition form to your spouse with an acknowledgement of service form that they need to complete and return within 7 days.
The acknowledgement of service form confirms to the court that;
- your spouse has received the divorce papers
- they are happy with the reasons for divorce and wording used
- whether they agree to the divorce or want to contest it
The court will not chase your ex-partner if they do not complete the Aos (Acknowledgement of service) within 7 days.
The course of action to take if you want to proceed with the divorce is to instruct a court bailiff or a process server, who will personally hand the divorce petition to the respondant. This step is essential if you wish for proceedings to continue and costs do vary.
If your spouse needs assistance in completing the form to make sure it's sent back to the courts correctly, they should look at a respondent in divorce service.
3. Decree Nisi
At this stage of the divorce procedure, you can now apply for the Decree Nisi (the first decree), which is essentially states that the court cannot see a reason why you can't obtain a divorce.
If the judge see’s no reason why your divorce cannot go ahead, your Decree Nisi will become pronounced and a pronouncement date will be set.
Once you have a pronouncement date you can apply for the final decree 6 weeks and 1 day after the date given by the court.
4. Application for Decree Absolute
The final step in the divorce process is to apply for the Decree absolute, which is the final decree and is what legally finalises your divorce.
As we stated above, the application for the decree absolute can't be done sooner than 6 weeks and 1 day of your decree nisi pronouncement date.
An application for the decree absolute typically takes 2 weeks, which will then formally and legally end your marriage.
What are the grounds for starting divorce proceedings?
Although there is actually only one ‘ground’ for divorce, which is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you must prove this to the court by establishing one of the five following facts:
- Unreasonable Behaviour
- Separation of 2 years with consent
- Separation of 5 years - no consent required
What are the court fees in divorce & how to pay them?
Court fees for divorce are set by the government and are currently £550 for England & Wales.
You may not have to pay the fee, or you may get some money off if you are on a low-income or receive certain benefits such as;
- Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Income Support
- Universal Credit
- Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
Use form EX160a to apply for help with fees for your divorce. You may not have to pay a fee, or you may get some money off.
Alternatively, if you’d like to have an idea of whether you may be entitled to a reduction in court fees without waiting to hear from the court, use our court fee remission calculator.
Divorce-Online can help you with the divorce process
Divorce-Online have helped over 150,000+ couples in England and Wales obtain a quick, easy and affordable divorce, by taking away the need to instruct solicitors for your case.
If there is agreement then there is no need to spend thousands hiring a solicitor to handle what is mainly an administrative procedure.
We can help you complete your divorce within 16 weeks from as little as £59, including advising you on choosing the right reason to base your divorce on.
How long does a typical divorce process take to complete?
A typical online amicable divorce where both parties have agreed to the divorce and the grounds for divorce they wish to file upon, usually takes 4-6 months.
Unfortunately, as a divorce is a legal procedure there is no definitive timetable for a divorce to complete within. Things that can delay the divorce being made absolute can include;
- Delays at the court
- Delays in returning paperwork back to the court
- Delays in sending paperwork to the court
- Delays in your spouse responding to paperwork
One of the main reasons our Managed Divorce Service usually completes within 16-18 weeks is because of our efficient staff and our relationship with the courts, which allows us to proceed quickly with the next stage of your divorce process.