The divorce process

If you are considering divorce, it makes sense to understand what’s involved. While the process may seem complex, it has been designed to be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of around 120,000 couples who divorce in England and Wales each year, from the most straightforward cases to those involving complex business assets.

The key stages of the process are set out below. This is an overview for general guidance and does not constitute legal advice.

1) You cannot apply for a divorce until you have been married for at least a year.

2) Filing a divorce petition with the appropriate court begins the divorce process. The partner filing for divorce is called the petitioner and the other partner is called the respondent.

3) The petition must be made on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, which must be supported by one of the following five facts:

  • adultery (this does not apply in civil partnerships)
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion for at least two years
  • two years’ separation, if both parties agree to the divorce
    • five years’ separation, without the other party’s consent.

4) The divorce petition will be considered by a judge who will also consider whether the financial issues and arrangements for the children have been agreed or are in the process of being resolved.

5) If the judge agrees that the petition shows cause for a divorce, the petition is sent to the respondent for an acknowledgement to be completed and returned to the court. An application can then be made for the decree nisi.

6) Once the decree nisi has been granted, six weeks must pass before the petitioner can apply for the final decree (the decree absolute).

7) The decree absolute is the last stage in the legal process that ends the marriage. Once this has been granted the marriage is legally brought to an end and the parties are divorced. It is only at this point the parties are free to remarry.

8) The court will only grant the decree absolute when the judge agrees that all arrangements for the children are satisfactory. Any financial order will also only come into force after the decree has been made absolute.

In civil partnerships, the equivalent of the divorce petition is called a dissolution application. The equivalent of a decree nisi is called a conditional order and for a decree absolute it is called a final order.

For more information on our divorce services, please contact us.