How To Get a Divorce in the UK
A Guide to The Divorce Process
A divorce can be a long and difficult process, and it is important to know what to expect before you begin. On this page, we discuss how long a divorce typically takes in England and Wales as well as some of the things that can affect the length of the process.
Lisa Pepper Partner
“A family team that is able to offer the highest level of expertise across the family law spectrum from high-net-worth finances through to care proceedings and children matters.”
“Lisa is extremely hard-working and adored by her clients. She is a very empathetic and approachable lawyer.”
“She has a good way of talking to clients in an empathetic way and is also a highly recommended mediator.”
“Lisa is an exceptional mediator and lawyer. She has impressive insight and is down to earth, giving pragmatic and clear advice.”
A Guide to Getting Divorced in the UK
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 following:
- 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
Applicant 1 starts the divorce application for joint applications, and then Applicant 2 fills in their information. Finally, Applicant 1 submits the application to the court.
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 how to split the fee. Find out more about how much a divorce costs.
Step 4. Official court process
The court sends your partner (the Respondent) the divorce petition and an Acknowledgement of Service (AOS) form for sole applications. The Respondent has 14 days to complete and return the AOS to the court.
One of the most significant changes in 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 a Certificate of Entitlement, confirming the date your Conditional Order will be pronounced in court. This procedural step shows the judge is satisfied that you are entitled to a 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 a financial settlement, including dividing their money, property and other assets. 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.
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.
Bridget Thompson is a public law specialist noted for her extensive children public law practice.
"David Leadercrammer is such an experienced wonderful lawyer who you would want on the other side of your case. He’s sensible, pragmatic and hugely experienced in money and children cases."
"Bridget Thompson combines her excellent legal knowledge with a clear, succinct and robust style of advice and advocacy. Her approach clearly inspires a high degree of client confidence in her"
"She is excellent. She's very reliable, talks about her cases passionately and is very committed to her clients."
"I consider the firm to be very experienced in child care cases and to provide a very professional and high standard of work"
Bridget Thompson is a public law specialist noted for her extensive practice in matters involving alternative families and adoption. An interviewee observes: "She's a fighter, she's clever, and she understands all aspects of a case."
"Well-regarded family practice assisting clients with substantial matrimonial disputes and sensitive children proceedings."
"Simone is absolutely on top of the game. She has great attention to detail, and has her clients' needs at heart."
"Bridget is client-focused, a pleasure to work with and incredibly supportive to her clients."
Bridget Thompson heads the family team, where client care is the top priority.
Simone McGrath is a highly knowledgeable practitioner with a focus on international child abduction matters. She has a large expertise in public and private law.
Simone McGrath handles international child abduction cases and challenging care proceedings relating to non-accidental injuries.
This team is perhaps best known for its children work, often involving complex international dynamics.
Naomi Angell leads the market in cross-border children law matters. Sources confirm that she is "at the cutting edge of changing law and policy" when it comes to international adoption
Insights from our Family LawyersVIEW ALL
High income parents – how much child maintenance should...
When separating or divorcing parents cannot agree the amount of child maintenance to be paid, (in high income cases where...Read more
Family Dynamics: A Factor In Child Arrangements Cases
In proceedings involving children, the parents should consider the impact their behaviour towards each other may have on how the...Read more
Approving Consent Order In High Value Divorce Case...
The case of Bogolyubov v Bogolyubov The best course of action for divorcing couples is to agree on a financial...Read more
Does Divorce Jurisdiction Matter?
Is England/Wales the Right Jurisdiction for Your Divorce? When it comes to getting divorced, London has a lot of...Read more
Breadwinner or homemaker in divorce. Does it matter?
When agreeing on a financial settlement, does it matter if you’re a breadwinner or a homemaker? When it comes...Read more
What is Parental Responsibility?
Understanding Parental Responsibility Parental responsibility is the legal term used to describe parents’ duties and responsibilities for their children. These...Read more
Are trusts protected from divorce?
Can trusts protect an inheritance from your spouse? A trust is a separate legal entity. Neither spouse owns its assets. ...Read more
Is a limited company protected from divorce?
Is my spouse entitled to half of my business? If you are involved in running a limited company, then it...Read more
How is a pension split in a divorce?
Pensions and Divorce In a divorce, pensions are taken into account together with all other financial assets. Once all assets...Read more
Who gets the house in a divorce?
How is a house divided in a UK divorce? For most people thinking about getting a divorce, one of the...Read more
Judge ignores pre-nuptial agreement but factors in non-matrimonial...
Case Law One of the reasons I am still passionate about family law, after 20 years in the field, is that...Read more
How to set aside an order in financial...
My ex-spouse didn’t tell the truth about their finances when we divorced, can anything be done? Can the financial...Read more
Pension sharing on divorce
What is the new procedure for pension sharing? Pensions are one of the biggest assets of a marriage, yet many...Read more
What is a transfer of equity?
Transfer of equity in divorce Transfer of equity refers to the process of transferring part or all of a property...Read more
Do You Have To Go To Court For...
If your divorce is uncontested and there are no disputes over issues such as what happens to the marital home...Read more
Capital Gains Tax on Divorce
Proposed Capital Gains Tax Rule Changes Could Reduce Stress for Divorcing Couples The government has proposed a number of changes...Read more
My ex has cut me off during divorce
Can my spouse cut me off financially? Unfortunately, it is far too common that when a client says it’s...Read more
How the Court views loans from parents during divorce A frequent issue in financial divorce cases is a loan from...Read more
Mesher Orders Explained
What is a Mesher order? A Mesher Order allows the sale of the family home to be postponed in the...Read more
Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) for Divorce
What is FDR for Divorce? Traditionally, a divorce financial settlement is dealt with by mutual agreement between the parties or...Read more
10 Interesting Facts About Same Sex Marriage and Divorce
Eight years after same-sex marriage was written into law, we’re looking at these major life events by the numbers. 1....Read more
In England and Wales, there are three key stages to the divorce process: The Divorce Petition The Decree Nisi The...Read more
6 cases that shape a private children dispute
Family disputes involving children can be particularly emotive, which is why our expert children lawyers work tirelessly to understand how...Read more
Are irreconcilable differences grounds for divorce?
If you have come across this article, it may have resulted from an online search to see if you and...Read more
Our London Divorce Solicitors View the whole team
Claire Andrews Partner
Mark Freedman Partner
Lisa Pepper Partner
Yael Selig Partner
Andrew Watson Partner
Joanne Wescott Partner
Diana Bastow Senior Associate
Sacha Ben-Shabat Paralegal
Sophie Brand Solicitor
Amy-Jo Fletcher Solicitor