How to get a divorce

19 May 2022 | Lisa Pepper
open door - how to get a divorce

Step-by-step Guide to Getting Divorced

In April 2022, new no-fault divorce rules replaced the old fault-based system in England and Wales. They remove the need to establish a ‘ground’ or reason to divorce and require a simple statement of marriage breakdown instead. The new rules also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.
The new system aims to reduce hostility between couples. One important change is that anyone wishing to end their marriage or civil partnership will be able to apply individually as before or jointly as a couple so that no one is left out or taken by surprise. The two processes are similar although there are some important differences. We explain both methods in this step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Establish whether you can get divorced

You can apply for a divorce in England or Wales if all the following statements are true:

  • You’ve been married for more than 12 months
  • Your marriage is recognised in the UK (including same-sex marriages and civil partnerships)
  • Your marriage has permanently broken down
  • At least one of you lives in the UK

Step 2: Decide if you are applying individually or as a couple

For the first time, couples can apply for a divorce together. This means that both parties will complete the application and all other paperwork.

Jointly divorcing couples will be known as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2, rather than Applicant and Respondent as in individual divorce applications.

Joint applicants are able to switch to an individual application if they feel they can no longer work together, or if one party is dragging their heels on the application. However, individual applicants (sole filing) will not be able to change their application to a joint application. Therefore, you must make the decision on whether to apply jointly or individually at the start.

Step 3: Start a divorce application 

For individual applications, one person (the Applicant) begins the process. The form is simple and can be done online through Gov.UK, or you can use a solicitor. You can also apply for a divorce by post by downloading and filling in a divorce application form D8.

Whichever method you choose, you need to provide:

  • The full name and address of both parties
  • Your original marriage certificate or a certified copy
  • A certified translation of the marriage certificate if it is not in English

For joint applications, Applicant 1 starts the divorce application, and then Applicant 2 fills in their information. Finally, Applicant 1 submits the application to the court.

In 2022, the court fee to apply for a divorce is £593. The sole Applicant or whoever is named as Applicant 1 pays the fee. If you’re applying with your ex, you’ll have to decide on how you split the fee.

Step 4. Official court process

For sole applications, the court sends your partner (the Respondent) the divorce petition and an Acknowledgement of Service (AOS) form. The Respondent has 14 days to complete and return the AOS to the court.

One of the most significant changes of the no-fault divorce system is removing the ability of the Respondent to dispute whether the marriage has broken down. They can only dispute the application for technical reasons, for example, if the marriage or civil partnership is not legally recognised in the UK. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases, the AOS will simply confirm that the Respondent has received the application and is happy for the divorce to proceed.

Step 5: Wait period 

The new law introduces a mandatory 20-week reflection period, which starts when the application is made. This is an opportunity to agree on practical arrangements for your separate futures and decide whether you want to turn back.

Step 6: Apply for the conditional order

Once the 20-week cooling-off period has passed, the Applicant(s) applies for the Conditional Order. This used to be called the Decree Nisi. If you applied for the divorce online, this can also be done online.

Step 7: Court review

The court reviews your application for a Conditional Order. This could take a few weeks, depending on the court’s workload. If your divorce is approved, the court will issue you with a Certificate of Entitlement, confirming the date your Conditional Order will be pronounced in court. This is a procedural step and shows the judge is satisfied that you are entitled to divorce.

Step 8: Second wait period

You and your ex must now wait six weeks and one day before applying for a Final Order. This used to be called the Decree Absolute. This second waiting period is intended for couples to agree on how they will divide their money and property. If you want this to be legally binding, you must prepare a Financial Consent Order and present it to the court for approval.

Most couples ask a solicitor to help with the financial arrangements, even if they made the divorce application themselves without any legal support.

Step 9: Apply for the Final Order

After the six weeks is up you can apply for the Final Order. Most couples will submit their Financial Order at this time, which usually results in it being granted alongside your Final Order. The Financial Order will prevent any future claims from being made by either party and ends all financial ties.

Step 10: Final Order granted by the court

It only takes a day or two after applying for the Final Order for the court to issue it. Once you have it, the marriage is officially ended. Keep this document safe as it is your proof of divorce.

How long will a no-fault divorce take?

Because of the 20-week cooling-off period, a no-fault divorce will take a minimum of six months. This is roughly the same amount of time, or potentially longer, than the old system. You will, however, be able to get a divorce without blaming each other so the new system may seem easier and less stressful by comparison.

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