Lawyers are sometimes paid a lot of money for sorting out the divorce for a person, but with not much effort on your part (and even less if you let us help you), you can get it done yourself at vastly less cost. Money that you don’t spend on lawyers is more money for you and your family. Read on, and we’ll make it easy for you to understand.

The breakdown of a relationship is almost always difficult. If you’re married (and particularly if you have finances to divide, or children to make arrangements for) it can be even more challenging.

But if you get to the point that you decide that divorce is inevitable, you probably just want to get it done as simply, and with as little pain, as possible: virtually everyone who has got divorced would tell you that however you feel about your spouse at the beginning of the divorce process, it will still be the best thing for you to get through that process with as little aggravation and protracted argument as possible. On this page we set out all you need to know about divorce itself.

An overview

The law surrounding the process of getting a divorce has not changed for 45+ years, and seems a bit archaic by modern standards, but if you know a little about it (and we set out an explanation of the divorce process below) you can see that it need not be that difficult.

If you have been married for more than a year, and you consider that your relationship has permanently broken down, you will be able to start divorce proceedings. It does not matter where you got married, but if you want to get divorced in England or Wales, you must qualify at the time of the divorce by having a link to this country; we will set those out in more detail below but having your permanent home here is enough, which covers most people’s situation.

Before going into any more detail, for completeness we should add that an alternative to divorce, for people who want to legally formalise their separation but remain married, is a judicial separation. It is not a common choice, as the spouses remain married, but it occasionally suits some people’s circumstances (for religious reasons etc). An even rarer option is to apply to have your marriage annulled (which means cancelled as if it had not happened); although this might sound attractive, the law surrounding it mean that it is available in very limited circumstances (which do not apply to most people’s marriage).

And then finally (before getting to the detail), it is important to bear in mind that a divorce only deals with the marriage itself. It does not deal with the legal claims of both spouses against the other, which need to be dealt with in a legally binding Court order, without which those claims can potentially remain outstanding forever. It also does not deal with arrangements for children of the marriage – in respect of which the Court hopes separated parents can still agree between themselves, but will reluctantly make orders as necessary if they cannot.

The three (perhaps four) steps

There are only three steps you need to take to obtain a divorce (and one step from your spouse). We set them out below, and then will break down each one for you.

1. File a divorce petition – which is then served on spouse by the Court.

2. Your spouse sends an acknowledgement of service to the Court.

3. File an application for ‘decree nisi’.

4. File an application for ‘decree absolute’, completing the divorce.

1. You file a divorce petition

In order to file a divorce petition, there are several different aspects to deal with:

Grounds for divorce

Essentially this means giving the Court the reason(s) why a divorce is justified in law, called the grounds for divorce. There are five grounds possibly available, but the only two that are available without waiting for a minimum of two years after separation are ‘adultery’ or ‘unreasonable behaviour’ – both of these relate to your spouse (in other words, you cannot base your divorce petition on your own adultery, for example).

Adultery. If your spouse has committed adultery within the last six months of you living together, then you can choose this grounds for divorce. It is the simplest, as it requires the least amount of information on the form. You do not have to name the third party (and are specifically discouraged from doing so by the Court rules).

Unreasonable behaviour. If adultery is not available as a reason, this is the only grounds for divorce that do not require you to wait at least two years after separating. Alleging unreasonable behaviour in the divorce petition requires you to set out some examples (typically 4-6) of that behaviour. It is generally recommended that you keep these fairly low-key; there is no advantage in any financial or children proceedings by going to town on your spouse here, and it only increases the chances of the divorce not proceeding smoothly (which is what you want at this stage after all). In case you need some inspiration, we have set out some examples of unreasonable behaviour allegations in this separate article, but there is no set formula or required wording.

The other three grounds for divorce are: ‘two years separation, with your spouse consenting to the divorce’; ‘five years’ separation without the need for your spouse’s consent’; ‘desertion’. The first two are self-explanatory, the last one also requires at least two years’ separation (with your spouse refusing to live with you) and is not often used.

Legal entitlement to divorce in England and Wales
Whole legal books (or certainly chapters) are written on this subject, but essentially you can file for divorce in England and Wales if it is the country in which any one of the following applies:

  • You and your spouse both live here
  • You and your spouse both last lived here together, and you still live here
  • Your spouse still lives here (regardless of whether you do)
  • You have lived here for the last 12+ months
  • You have lived here for the last 6+ months and regard England and Wales as your permanent home.

If none of the above apply but they also do not apply to any other European country, then you can still file for divorce here if you regard England and Wales as your permanent home.

The logistics

You need to include various other information on the form, including the full name and address of your spouse etc. You will need to send in multiple copies of your petition.

You will also need to pay a Court fee of £550. It is possible that you may be eligible for a discount on the Court fee if you have less than £3,000 in savings and earn less than £60,540 (or receive income support or universal credit) – if you think you may be eligible for a reduced/no fee, you should check (with us or elsewhere).

If you want help in dealing with the paperwork for your divorce, then we can do that. If you want to do it yourself, then good for you. Either way, when it is ready, you then send it all off to the Court.

2. The ‘acknowledgement of service’.

Once the Court receives your divorce petition, it will process it. It then sends a copy of your filed divorce petition to your spouse, together with some additional explanatory documentation and a one-page ‘acknowledgement of service’. The Court documentation makes it clear that your spouse has 7 days (unless they live abroad) to file the acknowledgement.

In the acknowledgement of service form, your spouse has to confirm whether they accept the divorce will proceed or wish to defend it. 99.9% of people (whether they wish to be divorced or not) will accept the divorce will proceed, as everyone who has been through a divorce and every good family lawyer will tell you that it is a complete waste of time and money to try and defend one. If your spouse files the acknowledgement confirming they accept the divorce will proceed (ie will not defend it) then you can proceed to the next step.

If your spouse is one of the <0.1% who indicate an intention to defend it, we recommend that you ask us for further help… as the divorce proceedings will have become significantly more complicated.

3. You apply for decree nisi.

Once the Court has received your spouse’s acknowledgment, they will process it and send you a copy. Once you have received that, you can apply for ‘decree nisi’; a short document that mainly confirms that your divorce petition is still true. Decree nisi is a latin term meaning ‘decree unless’. In the (very) olden days, the decree nisi would then be announced in the village and the locals would have 6 weeks to object to the divorce proceeding to completion. These days, you still have to wait the six weeks, but there’s less involvement with the village…

Once the Court has processed the decree nisi application, it will write to you giving advance notice of the date when the Court will pronounce decree nisi. You do not need to attend Court for that (or any part of this process).

4. You apply for decree absolute

Once six weeks have elapsed from the date of decree nisi, you can apply for the decree nisi to be made absolute. The Court will then process that application, and send you a certificate of decree absolute. Your divorce is complete, and the marriage legally ended, from the date on the certificate of decree absolute.

Don’t forget about the finances

If you’ve progressed the divorce proceedings/paperwork yourself (or with our help) without the need for expensive solicitors, then you might also be negotiating with your spouse in relation to financial arrangements on divorce. If you can reach agreement on those financial arrangements, then you will not need to go to Court, but you will still need to have a financial agreement written up in the format that a Court can approve and turn into a Court order.

If you do not have a financial Court order in those circumstances, then you cannot rely on your spouse sticking to that agreement in the future, and he/she could apply to the Court later for other financial claims against you.

After you reach a financial agreement with your spouse, we can prepare a draft financial order for you in the terms of that agreement, which you can send into the Court (with some other supporting documentation) to have your financial agreement formally recorded and all remaining financial claims dismissed. Less money on lawyers, more money for you.