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 or, if not, that you have lived here for at least 6 months.
There is no longer a requirement (from 6 April 2022) to prove irretrievable breakdown. All that is required is a statement from one or both of you that the marriage has broken down. No further reason or explanation is required.
Can you agree?
It will still be important to try to agree with your spouse who is going to divorce because if you can submit the initial and later applications within the process jointly, overall it will be a little quicker. An application started jointly can be taken forward by one party alone without the other. When that happens, the party not joining in has to be given 14 days’ notice of each step taken. If you start the process unilaterally it cannot become joint later.
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.
There is no longer an ability to include a claim that the other party pay some of your legal costs in the divorce application.
The forms to be used are similar to the previous forms and are made available online by the government. A fee (curently £593) 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 you have applied unilaterally, you’ll be sent:
- a notice that your divorce application has been issued,
- a stamped copy of your application, and
- a case number.
At the same time, the court will send to your spouse the divorce application and an Acknowledgement of Service form. Your spouse will need to respond to your divorce application, and may:
- agree with the application, or
- confirm they intend to defend.
At present if your spouse confirms that they do not object to the application and sends to the Court their completed Acknowledgement of Service, then you can continue with the divorce by applying for a Conditional Order.
However, if you apply jointly the court will send to each party a Notice of Proceedings and each of you have to respond acknowledging that, within 14 days.
There is no real ability to defend a divorce application under the new procedure. The divorce can be disputed only on the basis that the marriage itself is not valid or that the court does not have the jurisdiction (the right) to entertain the divorce.
Applying for your Conditional Order for Divorce
A Conditional Order 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 Conditional Order application includes a statement confirming that what you said in your divorce application was true. You can make the Conditional Order application – provided the proceedings have been acknowledged by all parties as required in either a joint or sole case – after 20 weeks have passed from the date of your divorce application.
If the judge is satisfied that all is in order, the court will send you and your spouse a certificate which will tell you the time and date that you’ll be granted a Conditional Order. You will still be married until you have received your Final Order.
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 Final Order for Divorce
The Final Order is the document that confirms the end of your marriage. 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 Final Order, at which point you are no longer married.
If only one party from an initially joint application is applying for the Final Order, they have to give the other party 14 days’ notice and produce a certificate of service to the court when making their application. Otherwise both joint applicants or an application that was made by a sole applicant at the start can apply for the Final Order after six weeks and a day has passed from the date of the Conditional Order.
Caution: Financial Arrangements
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 for a Financial Order.
Additionally, you will need to reconsider your Will if you have property or children.
See our article How to Agree a Financial Settlement on Divorce.
By Karen Anker, Family & Divorce Solicitor