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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.

Most people don’t know how to get a divorce, especially without hiring divorce solicitors.

However, it can be done without visiting the court if both parties are in agreement with 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 the court.

Important: You cannot begin the divorce procedure within the first year of marriage.

What is the first step in the divorce process?

The Divorce Process

The Divorce Process Guide

Issue divorce petition (D8)
£550 court fee

The court sends petition to respondent
(your spouse)

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.

Application granted

Decree absolute is issued
(you are now divorced)

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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:

  1. Desertion
  2. Adultery
  3. Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. Separation of 2 years with consent
  5. 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.

To get help completing your divorce for an affordable fixed-fee, call us on 01793 384 029 or send us an email with your questions.

How long does a typical divorce process take to complete?

A typical uncontested online divorce where both parties have agreed to the divorce and the grounds for divorce they wish to file upon usually takes 5-6 months.

Unfortunately, as divorce is a legal procedure there is no definitive timetable for a divorce to complete within, however, you can use the simple tool below to receive an instant estimate on your personal circumstances.

How Long Does A Divorce Take Tool

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At Divorce-Online we only deal with uncontested cases, which is when both parties are in agreement to the divorce. We have professional divorce solicitors on-hand to provide you with the advice you need, simply call OLS Solicitors on 01793 676278

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Have you agreed to a financial agreement with your spouse?


We can still help you process your divorce through our online divorce services, however, there will be more procedural steps involved. Please call us on 01793 384 029 for more information

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If you have reached an agreement on your finances we can help you finalise your divorce and financial settlement within 16-20 weeks in most cases.

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We can help you obtain a divorce in 18-22 weeks, which is nearly 3 months quicker than when doing it yourself or hiring high-street solicitors.

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Use our simple qualification tool to see which service is the most suitable for you. Answer a few simple questions to be matched with the perfect service. We can help you divorce from just £59.

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