How do I file for divorce?

If your marriage has broken down and you are now considering getting divorced, you will probably have many questions about the process, how it works and how long it will take. With that in mind, we have put together this guide that contains everything you need to know.

If you would like to ask more questions or find out more about how our divorce solicitors can help you, we are offering all new clients an initial meeting at a significantly reduced rate on our usual fees. This can then be claimed back against our fees should you go to instruct us to act for you.

Reasons for divorce

In reality, the reasons for divorce are complex and varied, but whatever the reason, since April 2022, couples no longer need to state them and make them public during the divorce process.

Previously, in order for a divorce to be granted, couples had to demonstrate that the marriage had broken down irretrievably. This process required proof in the form of one or more of the five legally recognised ‘facts’ for marital breakdown.

The ‘five facts’ were:

  1. Adultery – Your spouse had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex whilst married to you. Same-sex affairs did not constitute adultery, although they could be an example of unreasonable behaviour. Adultery could only be relied on if the divorce proceedings started within six months of the last event of adultery.
  2. Unreasonable behaviour -This was the most common reason for divorce; it covered a variety of issues in the marriage, including abusive behaviour, falling out of love and lack of sexual contact.
  3. Desertion – If your spouse had left you to end the relationship non-consensually for at least two years.
  4. Two years consensual separation – If you and your spouse had been separated for at least two years and both agreed that a divorce was necessary.
  5. Five years non-consensual separation – You and your spouse had been separated for at least five years, but there was no consent to divorce.

In April 2022, new legislation, commonly known as ‘no-fault’ divorce was introduced. The new law means that separating couples no longer need to rely on the ‘five facts’; they can simply state that the relationship has irretrievably broken down.

Find out more about ‘no-fault’ divorce

Filing for a Divorce

Getting divorced in England is a fairly straightforward process, but there are a number of steps that need to be taken in a particular order. Being prepared and taking each step in a timely manner will increase the chance of a smooth and inexpensive divorce.

You can apply for a divorce if :

  • you have been married for over a year
  • you live in England or Wales
  • your marriage is legally recognised in the UK

You can make a sole application, or you can make a joint application with your ex-partner. If you make a sole application, you are the ‘Applicant’ and your ex-partner is the ‘Respondent’. If either of you want to dispute you should seek legal advice.

Before you apply

If you are intending to divorce, you should, if you feel able,  talk to your ex-partner and try to resolve any issues, such as:

  • The division of your finances and assets
  • What will happen to the family home
  • Where any children will live

These issues will not be dealt with as part of the divorce process. Due to the complex nature of these matters and the possibility of an unfair outcome, we would strongly recommend that each party seeks independent legal advice on these matters.

What are the six stages of divorce?

There are six stages that need to be completed in order to obtain a divorce. The stages are:

  1. The Divorce Application
  2. The Acknowledgement of Service
  3. The Reflection Period
  4. The Conditional Order
  5. Cooling-off Period
  6. The Final Order

1. The Divorce Application

The Applicant submits the divorce application (D8 Form) to the court, along with the court fee (currently £593) and a copy of the marriage certificate. If your name has changed since the marriage, you must provide proof of the name change. You must also provide full address details for your spouse, so make sure you have them to hand before you start the application.

2. The Acknowledgement of Service

The court will issue the application and send it to the Respondent. The court will send a document called the “Acknowledgement of Service”. The Respondent then has 14 days to return the document to the court. The Respondent can use this form to say if they want to dispute the divorce or not. They cannot dispute the petition simply because they don’t want to get divorced; they must have a genuine legal reason, such as if the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.

3. The Reflection Period

A minimum waiting period of 20 weeks (referred to as a reflection period) must elapse from the start of proceedings before you can apply for the Conditional Order (previously called a Decree Nisi). This waiting time is designed to allow couples to agree on plans for the future. This is also a good time to start your Financial Consent Order application. It is important to be aware that obtaining a divorce does not automatically deal with the splitting of your finances. The only way to end all financial obligations between you and your spouse is to obtain a Financial Remedy Order, also known as a Consent Order, if the agreement is reached voluntarily between you.

4. The Conditional Order

You will then apply for the Conditional Order by submitting a D84 form and a supporting statement. If the court approves the application, it will issue a Certificate of Entitlement. After a few weeks, the court will then grant the Conditional Order.

5. Cooling-off Period

After this, there is a 6-week + 1 day cooling-off period before you can apply for the Final Order. During this period, you may want to submit your Financial Consent Order to the court for approval.

6. The Final Order

You can now apply for the Final Order by submitting a D36 form, ‘Notice of Application’ (formally Decree Absolute); it will usually be granted within 24 hours. Once this has been granted, your marriage has legally come to an end.

The Consent Order

The process outlined above only deals with legally ending your marriage. It does not make any arrangements for dividing your assets, such as your pensions, investments and property. If you want a legally binding contract that states what should happen to your assets and prevents any future claims, you need to apply for a consent order. You must apply for this before you apply for the final order.

Resolving finances and the arrangements for children can often be the biggest cause of conflict between separating couples; we would recommend that both parties seek independent legal advice when drafting a consent order.

Filing for divorce online

Since April 2018, separating couples have been able to apply for a divorce online using the GOV.UK website. The online service did not replace paper applications, but it gave couples a quicker and easier way to file their applications.

Cost to file for divorce

The cost to apply online is currently £593, which is the same as a paper application.

If you are thinking of, or are currently in the process of, filing for divorce contact the Warners Solicitors family law team for expert legal advice.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since the date this article was published.

Divorce Process FAQs

What documents do you need to get divorced?

To get divorced in England and Wales, you will need the following documents:

  • Your original marriage certificate – If you don’t have a copy of your marriage certificate, you can request a copy from a register office. If the certificate is not in English, you will need to submit a translation.
  • If your name has changed, you will need proof of the name change.

Can both parties file for divorce?

Yes, under the new legislation introduced in April 2022, either party can submit the application, or they can submit a joint application. It should not make any difference to the outcome, but if one person makes the application, they will be the ‘Applicant’. The Applicant will have slightly more control over the timing of the process.

What if my spouse has already filed?

If your spouse has already applied, you will be the ‘Respondent’ This should not have any impact on the outcome.

Can we get divorced if we still live together?

You can still live with your spouse and get divorced.

Can you file for divorce in a different country?

In most cases, you do not need to get divorced in the country where you were married. You can get divorced in England and Wales as long as you have a valid marriage certificate.

Do you need a lawyer to file for divorce?

No, you do not need to use a lawyer or solicitor. However, there are some situations where it is strongly recommended that you use a solicitor; these include:

  • Your spouse is likely to hide assets or be uncooperative with the process
  • Your spouse is abusive
  • You have complicated assets

It is strongly recommended that you seek independent expert legal advice when drafting the consent order. The consent order will outline how your finances will be divided and it severs future financial ties between you and your spouse. Once the consent order has been issued, it cannot be changed without the consent of your ex-partner. By seeking legal advice, you can make sure the terms of the agreement are fair before you apply for the consent order.

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