How to Get a Divorce: the Complete Guide

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How to Get a Divorce: the Complete Guide

It’s never easy making the decision to end your marriage, and whilst the divorce process can initially seem very overwhelming, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to make it as clear as possible. You’re eligible for a divorce in England and Wales if you’ve been legally married for at least one year and your relationship has permanently broken down. Our experienced family solicitors are able to guide and advise you through every step of the process which can generally be broken down into 5 stages.

Step one – Completion of the divorce petition

The divorce petition can be completed online or by filling in a divorce application form (D8) and sending through the post. The cost for both is £550 but it is possible to get help with these fees if you’re on benefits or a low income.

As part of the divorce petition you’ll need to state why the marriage has broken down. Currently, there are 5 legal grounds for divorce which are:

  • Adultery: classed as sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex. You need to file the divorce petition and no longer be living with your spouse within 6 months of finding out that the adultery took place and be able to provide proof that it happened.
  • Unreasonable behaviour: this can include domestic abuse, committing a criminal offence, an inappropriate relationship with another person, etc.
  • Desertion: your spouse needs to have left the marital home for at least two years with the intention of ending the relationship. You will be required to provide proof that your spouse left without good reason.
  • Separated for two years with both agreeing to the divorce: your spouse must agree in writing to the divorce and you must be able to prove you have been living apart.
  • Separated for five years with one spouse objecting to the divorce: after 5 years living apart you are able to divorce without the agreement of your spouse.

If you’re unsure which grounds to file the petition on, we will be able to advise you. Recently, the Justice secretary David Gauke announced that the government will be introducing legislation that will allow for ‘no fault divorces’, however a date has yet to be confirmed for this.

Once the divorce petition is received, your application will be checked and if correct you’ll be sent:

  • A notice that your application has been issued (sent out)
  • A copy of your application stamped by the Divorce Centre
  • A case number

Step two – A copy of the divorce petition is sent to your spouse

Your spouse will be sent a copy of the divorce petition with an Acknowledgement of Service that will need to be completed within 8 days of being received. The Acknowledgement of Service will confirm that your spouse has:

  • received the papers
  • that they are agreeable with the petition and the grounds on which it was filled
  • whether they agree to the divorce or would like to contest it.

If in the case of an affair and you’ve chosen to name the other person involved, they will also get a copy of the petition.

If your spouse chooses to ignore the petition, there are steps you can take to proceed with the divorce which we will be able to advise on.

Step three – If your spouse does not defend the divorce petition, apply for the Decree Nisi

A Decree Nisi is a document that says the court sees no reason why you cannot divorce. To apply, you need to:

  • Fill out a Decree Nisi application form
  • Complete a ‘statement of truth’ which confirms that what you have said in your divorce petition is true
  • Attach a copy of your spouse’s response to the petition.

Once applied for, the Decree Nisi is pronounced in open court and both you and your spouse will be sent certificates stating the time and date the divorce will be granted. You then need to wait 43 days (6 weeks plus 1 day) before you can apply for the Decree Absolute.

If your application is rejected, you will receive a ‘notice of refusal of judge’s certificate’ stating the reasons why the court cannot grant you a divorce, e.g. more information might be needed in writing, and advise you on what to do next.

If your spouse objects to the divorce petition, you can still apply for the Decree Nisi however you’ll have to go to a court hearing for the judge to decide whether the Decree Nisi can be granted.

Step four – Make financial agreements

It’s important to have financial arrangements in place before you apply for the Decree Absolute if you want it to be legally binding and to prevent your ex-spouse from making claims against you in the future.  Once financial matters are agreed upon, your solicitor can prepare the appropriate legal financial agreement ‘Consent Application’ which can be lodged at court once the Decree Nisi has been pronounced.

Step five – Apply for the Decree Absolute

The Decree Absolute is the legal document that ends your marriage. This can be applied for 43 days after the date of your Decree Nisi. It must also be applied for within 12 months of this date or you may have to appear in court to explain the delay. If you don’t apply for the Decree Absolute, your spouse can, but they’ll need to wait a further 3 months after the 43-day period and there may be an additional fee.

Once the Decree Absolute is granted, you’ll officially be divorced. Both you and your ex-spouse will be sent a copy of the Decree Absolute which you’ll need to keep safe if you choose to remarry in the future or should you need to prove your marital status.

If you require any further information about the divorce process, or would like to speak to a member of our expert Family team, call us on 03444 124348.

Suzanne Daley

Suzanne is a Partner and family law specialist and heads our Family Law team. As a member of the Family Law Panel, she is experienced in all aspects of Family Law, Suzanne prides herself in her professional yet approachable style and ability to guide clients through what are often complex and emotional proceedings.

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