You can apply for a divorce in England or Wales if you’ve been married for over a year, your marriage has permanently broken down, your marriage is legally recognised in the UK, and the UK is your permanent home, or that of your spouse.
When you apply, you’ll need to prove one or more of the following reasons:
- adultery, or
- unreasonable behaviour, or
- desertion, or
- separation for 2 years and you both agree to the divorce, or
- separation for 5 years.
Can you agree?
It is important to try to agree with your spouse who is going to divorce and the grounds upon which the divorce petition is to be based.
If you make no attempt to agree the petition and start proceedings without providing advance notice to your spouse, then it may escalate matters. This reduces the chances you may have of reaching an agreement about child or financial matters.
Applying for a divorce
When completing the application paperwork, you will need to provide certain information. This will include your spouse’s current address, details of your wedding date along with your marriage certificate.
A fee of £550 is payable to the court when applying, unless you qualify for a fee exemption.
After your application for a divorce
The court will check your application and, if it is correct, you’ll be sent:
- a notice that your divorce petition has been issued,
- a stamped copy of your petition, and
- a case number.
At the same time, the court will send to your spouse the divorce petition and an Acknowledgement of Service form. Your spouse will need to respond to your divorce application, and may:
- agree with the application
- confirm they intend to defend
- object to paying the costs (if you’ve claimed them).
If your spouse confirms that they do not object to the petition and sends to the Court their completed Acknowledgement of Service, then you can continue with the divorce by applying for a decree nisi.
In the event that your spouse defends then – after completing the Acknowledgement of Service – they will have to complete an ‘answer to divorce’ to say why they are defending. If they do not submit an ‘answer to divorce’ form, then you can continue the process by applying for a decree nisi.
Your spouse may simply do nothing and not return the Acknowledgement of Service. In this case you will need to consider your options for proving to the Court that the petition has been served on your spouse.
Applying for your decree nisi
A decree nisi is a document which states that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce. This is the first stage in the two-stage divorce process.
Your decree nisi application includes a statement confirming that what you said in your divorce petition was true. It should include a copy of your spouse’s Acknowledgement of Service to the petition.
If the judge is satisfied that all is in order and that the ground for divorce is proved, the court will send you and your spouse a certificate which will tell you the time and date that you’ll be granted a decree nisi. You will still be married and have to wait 42 days before you can apply for a decree absolute to finalise the divorce.
If your application is rejected, the court will send you a ‘notice of refusal of judge’s certificate’ form stating why. The form will tell you what to do next. It may be that more information is needed, or a court hearing is required.
Applying for your decree absolute
The decree absolute is the document that confirms the end of your marriage. To apply for a decree absolute, you can supply on or after the 43rd day after the date of your decree nisi the ‘Notice of Application for Decree Nisi to be made Absolute’ form.
It is important that you understand that simply being divorced does not automatically end financial claims. If you want a legally binding arrangement for money and property, you must apply to the court a Financial Order.
See our article How to Agree a Financial Settlement on Divorce.
The court will check that time limits have been met and there are no other reasons not to grant a divorce. The court will then send you both a decree absolute, at which point you are no longer married. You will need to reconsider your Will if you have property or children.