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The divorce process

To apply for a divorce, you must have been married for at least 12 months.

The divorce process in England is conducted in three stages:

The divorce process

To apply for a divorce, you must have been married for at least 12 months.

The divorce process in England is conducted in three stages:

  • Stage 1: The divorce application

    To start, you need to submit an application to the court (Form D8) with a declaration that your marriage has broken
    down irretrievably.

    This is usually made online via a court portal (although you can make a paper application) and requires a payment of

    You can apply for a divorce by yourself (sole applicant) or make a joint application with your ex-spouse (joint applicants).

    Alternatively, if you receive a divorce application from your spouse, you are called the respondent in the legal process.

  • Stage 1.1: The acknowledgment of service

    The respondent is sent the divorce application and the Acknowledgment of Service and is given 14 days to return the completed Acknowledgment of Service to the court. 

    If both people complete and submit their divorce papers quickly, then this can speed up the process, however, you need to factor in how busy the court is.

    This part of the process may take longer if the respondent has not received a draft copy of the divorce application or indeed does not respond at all.  

    It is possible to dispute proceedings, but the reasons for doing so are limited and generally have to do with the validity of the marriage and whether it was celebrated according to the correct procedure.


  • Stage 2: conditional order

    The conditional order is a certificate that says the court doesn’t see any reason you can’t divorce or separate. It is often referred to as the “first stage” in the divorce process. 

    Once the judge has received the divorce application and conditional order application (including the D84 form) and the Acknowledgment of Service (signed by the respondent in the case of a sole application), the divorce application will be considered.

    As long as the paperwork is completed correctly and the court is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably
    broken down, both parties will receive a letter called the ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ confirming the date that the conditional order will be granted.

    Then follows a 20-week cooling-off period, which must be completed before the order can be pronounced.

  • Stage 3: final order

    Six weeks after the granting of a conditional order, you can apply for a final order. 

    This is the last stage of divorce and legally ends your marriage or civil partnership.

    You should keep your final order as you may require it if you remarry or change back to your maiden name.

    There are significant implications of the final order, and it is best to finalise any financial settlements before applying for a final order.

    If you do not apply for a final order within 12 months of getting the conditional order, you will have to explain the delay to the court.

  • What is a dedicated divorce centre?

    Divorce applications used to have to be filed at local county courts and be checked by district judges. HM Courts and Tribunal Service changed the way we process them, and they are now done at 11 dedicated regional divorce centres.

  • How long does it take to sort out divorce finances?

    A family lawyer can help to draw up the financial order between you and your ex-spouse.

    This will set out the financial arrangement between you both and end any further financial commitments.  

    Once the divorce financial settlement has been finalised, the agreement should be made legally binding by applying to the court for a financial order.

    This will mean that you and your spouse’s finances become separate, and neither person can make a claim against the other in the future. This process can take 6-12 months to finalise.

  • Agreeing on arrangements for children

    We advise clients on the options available to them as parents and help them resolve any contested issues raised concerning childcare arrangements and their children’s living arrangements. 

    In cases involving children, court action should be used as a last resort, and the welfare of the children will remain the paramount consideration.

    Child Arrangement Orders, which have replaced Child Contact, Child Custody Orders and Residence Orders, are legal agreements setting out where a child should live (residence), who they should spend time with (contact) and who the children are allowed to see during the contact.

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How long does a divorce take in the UK?

Mediation and collaborative law

The quickest way to get a divorce is to resolve disagreements without having to go to court. Employing professional mediators or collaborative lawyers can help prevent disputes from escalating and help you find solutions, saving you time and costly court hearings.  

The exception to this is if there has been domestic abuse in a relationship, in which case mediation or collaborative law is not appropriate.

Mediation involves meeting with a mediator whose role will be to help you to identify what the issues are, then help you towards finding solutions through face-to-face discussions. You will meet in a neutral and safe environment, and your discussions will progress at a pace that you are comfortable with.

Collaborative law differs from mediation in that each party has a legal advisor present at all meetings.

Both parties benefit from legal advice throughout the process as they have their own collaboratively trained lawyer. 

All four of you work together in a series of face-to-face meetings and commit to reaching solutions by agreement rather than through court.

How long does a divorce take in the UK?

Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements

If you have already drawn up a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, this can also help speed up divorce as all financial and other matters have been decided and agreed on beforehand should the marriage end. 

Useful tips to speed up your divorce:

Provide your solicitor with your marriage certificate, information about your wedding and evidence of the facts proving the marriage’s breakdown at the earliest opportunity. 

Complete all paperwork as promptly as possible and return it to your solicitor.

Lodging your divorce application online has proved so far to be more efficient than a paper-based application. We have experienced divorce petitions being issued by the court in 24 hours when using the online portal. 

Check all paperwork carefully for mistakes. Mistakes can add to the timescale if papers have to be resubmitted to court due to errors, as your application will go to the back of the queue when you re-submit it, causing unnecessary delays.

Agree on financial and child arrangements before the divorce is finalised. Disagreements about these matters can complicate matters and delay the divorce. 

There are two main methods used for non-confrontational divorce – mediation and collaborative law. 

Both are usually much faster than taking your divorce through the courts, with each having different advantages depending on your circumstances. 

The majority of our lawyers are Resolution members, a group of family lawyers, and other professionals, which promote a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes. 

Members encourage solutions that consider the needs of the whole family – particularly the best interests of children.

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