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A step by step guide to getting a divorce

Whilst we always highly recommend that you seek legal advice to protect yourself and your family, here’s a step by step guide about how to get divorced.

This step by step guide shows you the process of divorce in England and Wales (there are different divorce laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

  • Complete a divorce application

    If it’s you who is starting divorce proceedings, you are known as the ‘applicant.’ Your spouse is the ‘respondent’. 

    To start, you need to download and start to complete a divorce application (a Form D8) here.

  • Submit the application

    Once the form is completed you need to supply your original marriage certificate or get an official copy – you can order one here – your own copies will not be accepted.

    It is at this stage payment of the court fee is required (currently £593).

    You can submit your application in two ways: (England and Wales only)

    Online

    You can download a divorce application form (Form D8)  here

    Advice and guidelines on how to apply for a divorce

    Apply by post

    Send 3 copies of the form to your nearest divorce centre. Find yours here

    The Court will send you a copy back, one to your spouse and keep a copy on file.  

    You can pay by debit or credit card (the divorce centre will call you to take payment) or by cheque – made payable to ‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service’.

  • But what if there’s money to be sorted out?

    There is a question about making a financial claim on the application and you just tick a box.

    However, it is rarely that simple. Very few people know exactly what assets there are. Whilst you can find out what property, assets and income there is by yourself (a process called financial disclosure) we would strongly recommend getting legal advice, so you are protected financially.

    It’s one thing to know what there is, but that doesn’t mean that you will know how those assets and financial resources including income should be distributed.

    If you don’t get a financial settlement, you are leaving yourself open to any financial claims that can potentially be made in the future.

    You can find out more about reaching a financial settlement here.

    You can download Form E and submission details here.

  • What happens next?

    Your application will be checked by the court and if it’s completed correctly you will be sent a notice that your application has been issued, a copy of your application and a case number.

    A copy of the application will be sent to your spouse along with a form for them to complete called an Acknowledgement of Service form. 

    They are given 14 days to complete this and return to the court. This confirms to the court that the respondent has received the application.

    If your spouse returns the Acknowledgement of Service form agreeing to the divorce application, then you can apply for a conditional order which is the first stage of the divorce and basically means the court sees no reason why you cannot divorce.

  • What happens if my spouse refuses to return the Acknowledgement of Service?

    You will have to supply your spouse’s name and address on the divorce application. If you don’t have your spouse’s current address, this could cause difficulties since they must be served with the divorce application.

    For certain grounds, your solicitor or the court can instruct a process server to personally serve the application to your spouse. A process server is a person who will physically deliver the divorce papers to your spouse at their home, other known address or their place of work.

    They will charge a fee for this and will provide a statement of service that can be used in lieu of the signed Acknowledgement of Service in order to progress the divorce. 

     Once personally served, you can proceed whether they cooperate or not.

  • Apply for a conditional order

    The conditional order is often referred to as the “first stage” of a divorce.

    The conditional order does not bring the marriage to an end. At this stage, the couple remains married in the eyes of the law and can still move back from finalising the divorce at this stage.

    To get a conditional order, read the guidance and then fill in the application form (Form D84) here.

    An application is submitted to court alongside a statement of support that confirms that the contents of the application are true.

    The court will then consider the documentation and, if it is satisfied that the applicant is entitled to a divorce, it will issue a certificate of entitlement to a conditional order which will list the date for the pronouncement of the order.

    Usually, you do not have to attend court to hear the order being pronounced, unless there is a dispute over a cost order.

  • Apply for a final order

    Once the conditional order has been pronounced you can apply after six weeks and one day to have the final order granted. This is the formal court document that legally dissolves your marriage.

    You must complete a notice of application to the court which will check the time limits and there are no other reasons not to grant the divorce.

    If more than 12 months have passed since the conditional order was pronounced, then you will need to file a short statement confirming that you have not reconciled since the date of the order and that you have not had any further children together.

    You can download the application for the final order (Form D36) here.

    The court will send the final order to both parties and you are now officially divorced. Keep this document safe, as you will need to show it if you wish to remarry.

    You can find further forms and guidance on divorce, both marriage and civil partnerships here.

How long will a divorce take?

All in all, the process could take around six-eight months to complete – provided both parties do everything required at the earliest opportunity.

Delays by either side and disagreements over financial issues are common factors that slow progress, making the process take longer. If both parties cannot agree, or there are delays returning paperwork, then this can extend the time and increase costs.

One thing to be aware of when applying for the final order is that, once it is pronounced, you are no longer husband or wife. Should one of you die and the financial issues have not been resolved, then you may not be entitled to any widow’s benefits from pensions or life policies. It is always prudent therefore to have considered the financial issues before you decide to apply for a final order.

How can I get more information about getting a divorce in the UK?

If you would like to speak to someone about how to get a divorce, call our Client Care Team to speak with one of our specialist family lawyers. You will be offered a tailored approach from the UK’s largest team of divorce lawyers that really understand family law.

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