The divorce process in England and Wales explained

23 June 2021

There are a number of steps to the divorce process in England and Wales. We explain these steps without using legal jargon, including how long it usually takes to get divorced.

Divorce law is set to change in spring 2022, at which point this process will change significantly. For more information on the upcoming divorce law reforms, see No fault divorce - UK divorce law reforms explained.

Until then, this is the process for getting a divorce in England or Wales...

Step 1 - the divorce petition

The divorce process starts with a divorce petition, which will ask for information about why the marriage has broken down. Whoever is starting the divorce proceedings will fill in the divorce petition. This person is called the petitioner.

When using our Fixed Fee Divorce Solicitor service your Divorce Solicitor will complete the divorce petition for you, then sent it for you to sign.

The divorce petition form asks you to explain why you believe your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can give 1 of 5 possible reasons, which are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. You have lived separately for more than 2 years and you both agree to the divorce
  5. You have lived separately for more than 5 years

Once completed, the divorce petition is filed with the HMCTS divorce service, along with the original marriage certificate. If the original marriage certificate can't be found then a copy can be requested from the Register of Births and Deaths for a small fee.

The court will then issue the divorce petition which means that they allocate it a court reference number. The divorce petition is then sent by the court to the other person in the marriage. This person is called the respondent.

The divorce petition is then sent to the other person, who will then need to respond. This person is called the respondent.

Step 2 - the acknowledgement of service

After the respondent has received the divorce petition, they have 14 days to respond to the divorce. This is done by filling in and returning the acknowledgement of service form to the court.

The acknowledgement of service tells the court that the respondent has received the divorce petition. It also gives the respondent the chance to say whether they intend to defend the divorce.

When the court receives the signed acknowledgement of service from the respondent, they will forward this to the petitioner.

Step 3 - the decree nisi

After the petitioner has received the signed acknowledgement of service, they can then apply for the decree nisi. This is not the final decree in a divorce, but it is an important step.

When the decree nisi has been granted by the court, the petitioner has to wait 6 weeks and 1 day before being able to apply for a decree absolute.

Step 4 - the decree absolute

After 6 weeks and 1 day has passed since the decree nisi was granted, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute. Once the Decree Absolute is issued the divorce is final and the marriage has legally ended.

How long does a divorce take?

Divorce Courts in England and Wales are currently taking anywhere between 6 to 12 months from drafting a divorce petition to receiving the decree absolute.

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