What Are the Key Stages of Divorce?

02 May 2019

Divorce is generally comprised of 5 key stages. Each of these stages will usually need to be completed before the next one can begin. These 5 stages are set out below and we explain what each stage entails.

1. Application for the Divorce (Divorce Petition)

Either you or your spouse will need to begin the divorce proceedings by completing the Divorce Petition and submitting this to the Court. The person who completes and submits this document is called the Petitioner.

The Divorce Petition will need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and must also state the reason for this breakdown. Divorce law is set to change in England and Wales, but under the current law this reason must match one of the following 5 'facts for divorce':

  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Adultery
  • 2 Years' Separation with Consent
  • 5 Years' Separation
  • Desertion.

Choosing the right one is an important decision as some of the facts will require the other person to respond to the Court before the divorce can continue.

If you are completing the Divorce Petition, you should also consider whether you wish to apply for a Financial Order for the benefit of yourself and/or any children of the family. In certain circumstances, the Petitioner may also wish to apply to the Court to claim the divorce costs back from the Respondent.

Once the Divorce Petition is completed, it will be lodged with your local regional divorce centre for the Court to administer. There is usually a Court Fee which is payable to the Court (unless your financial circumstances mean you are exempt, or entitled to a reduction, from the Court Fee.)

2. Acknowledgement of Service

Once the Divorce Petition has been submitted to the Court, this will be issued to the other person (called the Respondent) along with the Acknowledgement of Service. This document offers the Respondent the opportunity to respond to the contents of the Divorce Petition and confirm whether they wish to dispute/defend what is stated. They will need to return their completed Acknowledgement of Service to the Court and once this has been administered by the Court, the Petitioner should receive a copy with the Court's seal upon it.

If the Respondent fails to return the Acknowledgement of Service, a separate application may be required to enable to divorce to continue. This is because the Court will require proof that the Respondent has been served with the divorce proceedings. For more information, see What Happens if My Spouse Doesn't Respond to Divorce Papers?

Alternatively your spouse may indicate that they are defending the divorce. In this case, there will be further steps required, so that the Court can decide whether the divorce should proceed.

3. Certificate of Entitlement

Once the sealed Acknowledgement of Service has been received from the Court, an application can be made for Decree Nisi. Decree Nisi is where the Court consider whether the contents of the Divorce Petition meet the law's requirement for granting a divorce. If it is granted, the Court will set down a date for your Decree Nisi to be pronounced and the Certificate of Entitlement shall inform you of this date.

If the Acknowledgement of Service has not been returned, an alternative Order will be required from the Court, granting permission to apply for Decree Nisi.

4. Decree Nisi

Once Decree Nisi is pronounced, you should receive a sealed Decree Nisi document from the Court. This is an important step in the divorce process as it means that not only are the Court satisfied that the criteria for a divorce has been met, but it also means that Court can now consider whether to grant a final Financial Order.

It is a common misconception that the divorce and financial proceedings are the same. These are two separate proceedings which require different applications, however the financial proceedings are dependent upon the divorce proceedings being started beforehand. For further information on financial proceedings please see Money Matters in Divorce.

5. Decree Absolute

Decree Absolute is the final stage of the divorce and, once pronounced, this means that your marriage has ended. The application for Decree Absolute can only be lodged with the Court following a wait of 6 weeks and 1 day once your Decree Nisi has been pronounced.

Although the Decree Absolute will bring your marriage to an end, it is usually best not to apply for Decree Absolute until any on-going financial proceedings have been completed. If you have not already started financial proceedings, you may wish to speak with a Divorce Solicitor to help you decide whether this is something you should consider before applying for Decree Absolute.

While the divorce process is generally the same for most people, the length of time it takes can vary dramatically. This depends on factors including whether the divorce is contested, how long the Regional Divorce Court takes to administer the divorce and how quickly documents are completed and returned.

At Co-op Legal Services, our Divorce Solicitors can provide comprehensive legal advice, support and guidance throughout the divorce process.

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