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.
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.
There’s much to know about getting a divorce, especially as England and Wales have different divorce laws to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We breakdown the 4 stages of the divorce process for you step-by-step to make it quick and easy to get an understanding of what is required in order to get a divorce.
If you find it easier, please use our divorce process timeline below, which shows you what happens at each stage, including if your ex-partner doesn’t cooperate.
The Divorce Process Timeline for an Uncontested Divorce
The timeline for a divorce in the UK from the issuing of the divorce petition (step 1) up until the pronouncement of the decree absolute (final stage) is usually around 4-5 months.
The timescales for divorce have been impacted this year due to COVID-19; a more realistic timescale would be five to 7 months providing both parties can agree to the divorce.
Would you prefer us to handle your entire divorce for you from start-to-finish? You can track your divorce online step-by-step and save over £750 on the cost of your divorce compared to when hiring local solicitors.
Important: You cannot begin the divorce proceedings before you have been married for at least 12 months.
The first step in any divorce procedure is the filing of the divorce petition (form D8).
Once the court sends your spouse a copy of the divorce petition, you become the Petitioner and your ex-partner becomes known as the Respondent.
There is a criterion 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 respondent. 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. Application for Decree Nisi
At this stage of the divorce procedure, you can now apply for the Decree Nisi (the first decree), which essentially states that the court cannot see a reason why you can’t obtain a divorce.
If the judge sees 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.
Sorting out your finances following a divorce
Sorting out how money and assets are to be divided following a divorce is often a sore spot for many couples.
Depending on your specific circumstances the ‘matrimonial pot’ may be vast and valuable, or it may be that you are to leave the marriage with what you entered.
If you have agreed to divide any money, property or pensions then you must obtain a financial court order by having a solicitor draw up a consent order to document the divorce settlement you have reached.
If you have no joint money, assets or children within the marriage (as is the case in most short marriages) then you may be able to achieve a clean break order, which will prevent any future claims against either party.
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
The grounds for divorce do not affect how long a divorce takes in most cases, but due to the lack of a no-fault divorce system in England and Wales, it can delay when you file for divorce.
If you aren’t prepared to apportion blame on your ex-partner then you will need to use a separation ground, such as 2 years separation with an agreement.
This may end your hope of getting a quick divorce unless you can show the court 4-5 examples of your ex-partners behaviour that has caused the breakdown of the marriage.
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.
How long does a typical divorce process take to complete?
Unfortunately, as divorce is a legal procedure there is no definitive timescale for a divorce to complete within, however, you can use the simple tool below to receive an instant estimate on your personal circumstances.
The cost of a divorce is another factor to consider along with the timescales. In most cases, when doing your divorce online you can save over £750 compared to when you hire local solicitors to handle your divorce.
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.
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