Divorce, Dissolution and Separation


Our talented lawyers offer a wealth of experience and will provide you with specialist and sensitive advice tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. We aim to take you beyond the needs of your immediate dispute in a constructive manner, to focus on long-term goals and wider issues arising from your relationship breakdown.

Guide to Divorce Proceedings

The mechanics of obtaining a divorce nowadays are usually quite straightforward -particularly if the couple agrees the marriage is over. The difficulties tend to lie rather in resolving the related practical issues stemming from divorce such as how to separate, where to live, and arrangements for the children and any money matters.

Your attention will probably be concentrated on those related issues and the process of actually obtaining a divorce may seem blurred. The purpose of this leaflet is to outline a broad framework of the divorce process, to highlight key points and to set out the sort of timetable to expect.

1. Who can start divorce proceedings?

Anyone who has been married for over a year provided one or other of the couple is either domiciled here or has been a resident in England or Wales during the proceeding year. It does not matter where the couple was married.

2. On what grounds can a petition be started?

The only ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, but there is a complication. A divorce will only be granted if one of the five facts laid down by law, proving irretrievable breakdown, is established.

3. What are the facts?

  • Your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to carry on living together.
  • Your spouse has behaved in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect you to keep living together.
  • Your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of two years or more.
  • You and your spouse have been living separately for a period of two years or more and your spouse agrees to the divorce.
  • You and your spouse have been living separately for 5 years or more, whether or not your spouse consents to the divorce.

4. If the marriage has irretrievably broken down and one of the 5 facts applies, what happens next?

This will depend upon your particular circumstances. It is often sensible to try to obtain your spouse’s consent to the petition and try to reach agreement over the contents of the petition.

For example, if your spouse agrees that the petition should be based on unreasonable behaviour, only a brief outline of the particular behaviour may need to be given. Not saying all that might be said will generally not prejudice you.

5. What does the petition actually look like?

Every petition follows the same form. It contains the basic information about names, addresses, ages of children and a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. It will also state the “fact” on which it is intended to rely.

The petition will include a section (known as a “prayer”) that includes a request for the divorce to be granted. It may also include a request for an order relating to children; a claim regarding costs of the divorce; and an order for financial provision.

6. How much does the divorce cost?

We offer a Fixed Fee for undefended divorce: £850 plus VAT plus Court fees of £550.

7. Are financial issues dealt with before the divorce is finalised?

It is not necessary for financial discussions to be completed by the time the divorce is final, but it is usually advisable. This is because certain benefits of being a spouse are lost on the grant of a Decree Absolute of divorce, such as widow’s pensions and inheritance tax exemption.

8. Are the proceedings public?

Court proceedings in undefended divorce are usually private. This means that the public and press are not allowed access to the court papers. However, the press are able to publish the fact that a divorce has been pronounced. The information that they may disclose is very limited. They may disclose the “facts” of the divorce but they are not able to publish details of the adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

9. Timetable

After one year of marriage:

Either spouse may start the divorce. He or she is referred to as the “Petitioner”. The petition is completed and sent to the family court together with the marriage certificate. A fee (currently £410) is payable.

On issuing the petition, the court sends copies to the other spouse, referred to as the “Respondent”. A copy of the petition is also sent to anyone named in the adultery petition, although it is very unusual to involve a third party in this way.

From the date the documents are received, the Respondent has time limits to observe.

a) Within 8 days:

He or she should send to the court a form called an “Acknowledgment of Service” which accompanied the petition. The form asks the Respondent to acknowledge receipt of the papers, whether it is intended to defend the petition, and whether any claim for costs is disputed.

b) Within 29 days of receipt (longer if the documents have to be sent to an address abroad):

Whether or not an Acknowledgment has been filed, the Respondent must, if he or she intends to defend the petition, file a Defence (called an Answer). The petition then becomes defended and the procedure outlined below does not apply. Defended divorce proceedings resulting in a fully contested hearing are very rare and are not necessarily private. A delay in finalizing the divorce is inevitable.

Within a few days of receiving the Acknowledgment of Service from the Respondent (and Co-Respondent) the Court sends to the petitioner’s solicitor a copy of the Acknowledgment(s) of Service.

If the Respondent is not defending the petition, the Petitioner can prepare an application for the Decree Nisi to be pronounced.

The Petitioner must complete a Statement confirming that the contents of the petition are true. It will also state whether any circumstances (including those relating to the children) have changed since the filing of the petition. The petitioner will sign and date the Statement and it will then be sent to the court with the request for a date for the first decree of divorce (“Decree Nisi”) to be pronounced.

If Acknowledgment(s) of Service is not returned to the court?

Proof that the Respondent and any named Co-Respondent have received the petition will have to be obtained before the Petitioner can take the next step. This may involve arranging for someone to deliver the petition personally or, exceptionally, obtaining a court order that proof does not need to be given that the Respondent and Co-Respondent have received the petition. This is called “dispensing with service”.

On receipt by the Court of the application for the Decree Nisi and Statement the District Judge reviews the papers and, if they are in order, gives a certificate for the Decree Nisi. Depending on the Court’s diary, the date is likely to be a few weeks after the application is lodged. The couple does not have to attend court.

6 weeks and 1 day after the date of Decree Nisi:

The Petitioner may, if appropriate to do so, apply for the final decree (“Decree Absolute”) by sending the appropriate form to court. This step is not automatic and is often not advisable before finances have been resolved by way of a court order. Once the application is received by the Court it will be dealt with quickly and the Decree Absolute may be available within a few days.

3 months after the Petitioner could first have applied for Decree Absolute:

The Respondent may apply for the Decree Absolute if the Petitioner has not already done so.

For further information please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family team.

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