The Divorce Process – England & Wales
To get a divorce you need to have been married for at least a year and prove that your relationship has broken down irretrievably. This must be based on one of the following five facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- 2 years of separation
- 5 years of separation
The Divorce Petition
The first stage in getting a divorce is filing what is called the petition. This can either be filed by you (if you are not using a solicitor) or by your chosen solicitor.
On this form you must indicate which of the five grounds for divorce (as stated above) you are using to demonstrate that your marriage has broken down irretrievably.
Two copies of the completed form are sent to the court, plus an additional copy if you named someone with whom your partner had an affair. Make sure if you are filing yourself without a solicitor that you keep a copy for yourself. You will need your original marriage certificate to accompany the forms (the original or a copy obtained from a register office).
Your solicitor should be able to advise you of the costs involved and their expected fees. The court fee for your divorce petition to be processed is currently £410 but is set to rise in 2016 to approx £550.
You may be able to get help with the court fees if you are on benefits or a low income.
If your spouse has filed for divorce…
Next steps: Responding to a Divorce Petition
If your spouse has filed for divorce, you will be sent their divorce petition by the court or their appointed solicitor. You will also be sent a notice of proceedings form and an acknowledgement of service form. You will need to fill in and send back the latter form within 21 days or your partner will be able to proceed with the divorce as if you had agreed.
If you agree with the divorce
Complete the acknowledgement of service form and return it within 8 days, and the divorce will go ahead.
If you disagree with the divorce
Fill in the acknowledgement of service form and return it within 8 days, indicating that you do not agree with the divorce. You then have 21 days in which to give your reasons for opposing the divorce, for which you will need the answer to a divorce petition form. Your solicitor will advise on this.
A £245 court fee may be payable when doing this.
What if your husband/wife lacks the mental capacity? Your spouse will need a ‘litigation friend’ to act on their behalf. Advice can be found on the UK Government website here.
Filing Your Own Divorce Petition
You may wish to start your own divorce proceedings against your spouse after receiving their divorce petition, for example if you have evidence that they are the one who has been unfaithful. If so, you can fill in your own petition and send it to the court or via a solicitor.
A court fee may be payable when doing this – as above this is currently £410 but is set to rise to approx £550.
If the respondent disagrees with the divorce or files their own petition, a court hearing will usually be heard in order to discuss the case. This can be a very costly exercise, at this stage, advice from a solicitor would be valuable – they may advise that the court and associated costs will out-way the financial gain from splitting your assets. To find a solicitor, try here: The official database for UK legal professionals can be found on the UK Law Society website.
Applying for a Decree Nisi
A decree nisi is a document which certifies that the court sees no reason why you cannot divorce from your partner.
You/Your solicitor can apply for your decree nisi whether your spouse agrees to the divorce or not, but if they do choose to defend the divorce then you will have to attend a court hearing.
The decree nisi allows you to apply for a decree absolute after 6 weeks have passed. Within the 6 weeks, either party can object to the divorce.
If your application is unsuccessful then you will receive a notice of refusal of judge’s certificate form which will explain why you can’t divorce. This form will guide you on what to do next.
The Decree Absolute
This is the document that officially ends your marriage. You/Your solicitor will need to apply for it. The document will cost £45 if you started your divorce proceedings before 1 July 2013; otherwise it is included in the fee for starting the divorce.
It is advisable to apply for your decree absolute within 12 months of receiving your decree nisi, or you will have to explain the delay to the court.
If the court is satisfied that:
- arrangements for children aren’t a reason to delay the divorce
- time limits have been met
- there are no other reasons not to grant the divorce,
then a decree absolute will be sent to you and your spouse, confirming the end of your marriage.
Your decree absolute will allow you to remarry, as well as permit you to revert to your birth name if you so wish. A list of who you should advise of your divorce can be found here.
Getting a Copy of a Decree Absolute
The decree absolute granted in divorce is something you may need later down the line if you wish to remarry. You will need the original document rather than a mere photocopy. Therefore, if you have misplaced it, you will have to go through the process of obtaining a new copy.
How easy this process proves to be will depend on how much information you can remember about how you originally obtained your decree nisi or decree absolute.
If you remember the name of the court which issued your decree absolute then your first port of call should be the court at which you first got hold of the document. They will be able to grant you a new copy of the document, although it will cost you.
The price will only be £5 if you can remember the case number pertaining to your separation; if you cannot remember than it will cost you the sum of £40.
If you cannot remember at which court you got your decree absolute or decree nisi, you should contact the Principal Registry of the Family Division. This will be more expensive, as you will have to pay £60 for them to search for your records.
To contact the registry, send an email to PRFD.firstname.lastname@example.org, call 020 7947 7017, or write to them at:
Central Family Court – First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
Although legal aid has, in the most part disappeared, it is still available in some cases.
Legal aid can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal.
You’ll usually need to show that:
- your case is eligible for legal aid
- the problem is serious
- you can’t afford to pay for legal costs
For an overview, eligibility and how to claim, find out more on the Government website.