The divorce process in England and Wales

04 January 2016

From what forms to fill out to how long it takes - find out about the divorce process in England and Wales.



Initiating the divorce process is fairly straightforward once your mind is made up to go ahead. You can either handle the administrative (forms) on your own or use the services of a solicitor who specialises in divorce/family matters.

Find out how to get started with a divorce

Having decided on a divorce, then you must first file a divorce petition through the courts. You can download the form or get one from your nearest court office. You will find your nearest court or tribunal at Court and Tribunal Finder.

It is a simple eight-page document, primarily tick-box. You need to state the reason(s) – grounds - for your petition (find out the grounds for divorce here). Once the form is completed, you will need to send two copies of the completed form to the court – three if you are naming a co-respondent in a case of adultery, while keeping a copy for yourself.

There is a court fee of £410 for doing this.

Responding to a divorce petition

If the divorce petition is against you (the Respondent), you will be sent a copy of the petition. If you wish to contest the petition you have 21 days in which to do so using the required form. It may involve a fee of £245.

If you consent to the divorce, respond by completing and returning within eight days the acknowledgement of service form. The divorce proceeding will now continue unopposed.

If the divorce is opposed/defended, or the spouse cited in the original petition decides to instigate divorce proceedings of his/her own then the case will go to a court hearing.

At this stage it’s strongly advisable to seek legal advice, even if your intention was to handle the proceedings yourself.

Decree nisi

When there is no objection by the spouse to the divorce going ahead, a decree nisi is issued by the court following completion and receipt of the document in which the petitioner must state again the reasons for the divorce stated in the original petition (see above).

This is legal step towards a decree absolute ending the marriage being issued. Although both parties will be notified of the date of issue it is not usual for either party to attend County Court.

There will then by a period of six weeks in which the petition can be withdrawn or a spouse decide to lodge objections (possibly over legal costs, for example) and the court to rule over any financial disagreement between the parties.

It is not unheard of for an application to be rejected by the court on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The applicant may be required to provide more substantial evidence or attend a hearing.

A decree nisi will also be issued if the court sees fit if there is an objection by the Respondent to the original petition. However, this will inevitably require a court hearing where the judge will decide on the evidence/statements made by the two parties whether to issue a decree nisi.

Decree absolute

This court-issued document is the final link in the divorce process chain. It formally and legally ends the marriage. You can apply for a decree absolute seeks weeks after the decree nisi has been issued, not before. You should also request a decree absolute with 12 months of the decree nisi’s six week limit ending. This is not a statutory requirement but the court may question why you have not acted sooner.

Even if you are not the spouse who started divorce proceedings, you may request a decree absolute yourself after a period of three months if you wish to put an official end to the matter.

How long does the divorce process take?

There is no fixed time for divorce proceedings to take place. Much depends on the individual circumstances of the case; there may be antagonism between petitioner and respondent over children’s issues, finance etc. If one of the two parties resides abroad, extra time may be allocated by the court for responses.

The fewer the issues, the clearer the case, the more amicable the parting of the ways the quicker it should be.

And, course, there are the fixed six weeks of the decree nisi. So, for the most optimistic of speedy resolutions look for around four months. After that, it’s a matter of the legal process taking its natural course. Better to to be pessimistic than not.

Whatever you do, do not make concrete plans for the nearish future. Don’t set a date for a house move, for example, a holiday with the children or, especially, a date for a post-divorce wedding until you have the decree absolute in your hand!

Find out how to change your name after a divorce

Useful links

For further information visit www.gov.uk/divorce

There are differences in divorce law between England & Wales and Scotland and N Ireland.

For further information on Scottish divorce laws, visit www.scotcourts.gov.uk and for divorce laws specific to Northern Ireland visit www.courtsni.gov.uk.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.