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Guide To The Divorce Process

Irwin Mitchell’s "very knowledgeable and compassionate" team "provides fantastic advice"

Legal 500, 2016

Irwin Mitchell’s "very knowledgeable and compassionate" team "provides fantastic advice"

Legal 500, 2016

If you're going through a divorce, we know that you'll have lots of questions about how the process works. This guide takes you through some of the common questions we get asked about - from the grounds you can use to divorce your partner, to the likely cost.

If you have any other questions, please get in touch with our expert family law team. You can call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

What Are The Grounds For Divorce?

In England and Wales there is only one ground for divorce which is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. To get divorced you must have been married for at least 12 months and be able to prove this ground using one of the following five reasons:

  1. Unreasonable behaviour
    This is the most common reason used to divorce. To prove unreasonable behaviour you need to be able to show that you can no longer be reasonably expected to live with your partner. There are a range of behaviours that might be considered unreasonable, for example if your partner shows no interest in you, is reckless with money, is having an affair that you can't prove, or has been violent or abusive towards you.
  2. Adultery
    If your partner has had consenting sexual intercourse with another person while you've been married, you may be able to use this as a reason to divorce. It's important to note that if they don't agree with this, then you will have to prove that adultery has taken place. This reason can't be used as a ground for dissolving a Civil Partnership.
  3. Living apart for two years
    If you and your former partner have been living apart for at least two years, and both agree to the divorce.
  4. Living apart for five years
    If you and your former partner have been living apart for at least five years then you can divorce them - even if they do not agree to it.
  5. Desertion
    If your partner left you without your knowledge or agreement for a continuous period of at least two years.

Whichever reason you use as grounds for divorce, it's important to note that it doesn't usually affect the financial settlement or between you and your former partner. Similarly it wouldn't normally affect the future arrangements for your children.

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How Does The Divorce Process Work?

There are eight stages to the divorce process:

  1. Divorce documents filed at court
    The person who starts the divorce is called the "Petitioner". They (or their lawyer) submit the divorce petition to the court, which gives the reasons why your marriage has broken down (the grounds for divorce). They also submit the marriage certificate together with the court fee of £550*. If they're using a solicitor for the divorce, a certificate must be submitted which says whether or not you have attempted to reconcile.
  2. Court sends divorce documents to the Respondent
    The "Respondent" is the legal name for the other person in the marriage. The court issues the divorce petition to the Respondent, letting them know that the Petitioner wants to divorce them, and why. The court will also send a form to the Respondent called the "acknowledgement of service".
  3. Respondent files the acknowledgement of service
    The Respondent has seven days after receiving the acknowledgement of service to complete and return it to the court. This document confirms to the court that the Respondent has received the divorce documents and also whether they intend to "defend" the divorce (if they wish to dispute the grounds for divorce).
  4. Petitioner applies for decree nisi
    The Petitioner is then able to apply for decree nisi - this is a declaration by the court, which says that it is satisfied that the Petitioner can divorce, based on the documents provided.
  5. Court sends out a certificate of entitlement
    The court will then send out a certificate of entitlement to both of you. This will tell you the time and date on which you'll be granted decree nisi.
  6. Court grants decree nisi
    The court will send a copy of the decree nisi to both of your solicitors. It's important to note that at this stage you are still not divorced. Once decree nisi has been granted then any financial agreement between you can be submitted to the court for approval.
  7. Petitioner applies for decree absolute
    Decree absolute is the point at which you are legally divorced. The Petitioner can apply for decree absolute six weeks and one day after the date that the decree nisi was granted. Sometimes it may be appropriate to delay applying until you have reached agreement with your former partner about your finances and children. Applying for decree absolute involves the Petitioner filling out a short form and returning it to the court.
  8. Court grants decree absolute
    You are not divorced until the decree absolute is granted. Once this has been granted you are legally divorced and you will both be free to re-marry. Divorce affects any inheritance you plan to leave, so following your divorce it is a good idea to review your will.

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How Long Does Divorce Take?

A typical divorce takes between four and six months.

However, every divorce is different and timings will vary according to the complexity of your case, and whether you both agree about things such as what should happen to your finances.

Common Delays In Divorce Cases

There are a range of common issues that can delay the divorce process, including if:

  • One of you isn't prepared to negotiate a settlement out of court
  • You disagree about the grounds for divorce
  • Negotiations about a financial settlement take a long time
  • One of you delays completing court forms, or completes them incorrectly
  • One of you refuses to return the divorce papers to court
  • The court itself has delays due to the amount of work it has to process

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How Much Does Divorce Cost?

In most cases you and your former partner will each pay your own legal costs. However, in certain circumstances a court can order one of you to pay all the legal costs. This can be the case if the court believes that one partner was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.

The main thing that will put costs up during a divorce is where one or both partners are not willing to negotiate. It's common for couples not to agree about the divorce settlement at first. But if you can't agree at all, it will make the process more expensive for you both as it will require extra work for your solicitors.

Court Fees

The Court Fee in England and Wales for starting a divorce is £550*.There is no fee for the Petitioner (the person who starts the divorce) to apply for a decree absolute (the legal document that finalises the divorce). However if the Petitioner does not do so, it is possible for the "Respondent" (the other party to the divorce) to apply instead. This would cost £155* and would involve going to court so the Petitioner can explain why they had not applied for decree absolute.

The Court Fee of £550* is paid by the Petitioner when they submit the divorce papers to the court. However, it is often the case that couples agree to share this cost. If you have a low disposable income it may be possible to pay a reduced court fee.

Solicitors Fees

How much you pay in solicitors fees will depend on:

  • Whether you and your partner are willing to negotiate
    While it's normal for there to be disagreements about issues such as what should happen to your finances, or your children, it's usually cheaper if you're both willing to come to an agreement. If you cannot agree then more legal work will be required, as your solicitor will need to negotiate with the other party.
  • Whether you can settle your case out of court
    Out of court divorce processes are normally more cost effective, and are suitable if you are willing to negotiate. If your case has to go to court then it can cost more in legal fees, as your solicitor will have to do more work to get you a fair settlement.
  • How complex your divorce is
    If you have property in more than one country, or considerable wealth, then it's important to get specialist legal advice to ensure your interests are protected.

We'll provide you with clear information about costs at the start of your case, allowing you to manage your outgoings. We also offer a fixed fee divorce option if you and your former partner have reached an agreement and want a quick and easy divorce.

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What Should I Expect When I First Meet My Divorce Lawyer?

For many people, meeting a lawyer for the first time can be a daunting prospect. Our solicitors understand this and offer a friendly service, where we listen to what you're saying and work with you to get you the settlement you want. We'll be honest with you about what will happen as well as giving a clear estimate of the costs involved.

When you first meet one of our divorce solicitors they will want to obtain a clear picture of your case, including:

  • The background of your marriage and the reason for separation
  • Your finances
  • If you have any children and how they may be affected
  • Whether you have already agreed something with your ex-partner (we can advise on whether this is fair, but will listen to you about what you want to accept)
  • Whether you have a prenuptial agreement in place

This first meeting will normally take between 60 and 90 minutes. While you don't need to bring anything with you, it can be helpful to bring a rough estimate of your property, debts, income and outgoings. If you'd like us to file a divorce petition on your behalf then we'll also need your marriage certificate.

We understand that this first meeting can be a lot of information to take in, so we’ll provide you with a written note of our advice after your appointment.

To book a first meeting with one of our experienced divorce lawyers, please call us on 0345 604 4911 or contact us online and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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Useful Links

  • Coping With Divorce
    Divorce is an emotional process; our guide provides useful information on the help available.
  • Divorce & Your Finances
    Detailed information about the impact on your income, home, property, pension and business following divorce.
  • Out Of Court Divorce
    Divorcing out of court can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful. It also encourages a better working relationship with your former partner too.
  • Child Arrangements
    For most people their biggest concern when going through a divorce is their children. We can help you negotiate future living and access arrangements as part of your divorce.
  • Make A Will
    Once you’re divorced you should review your Will. Visit our wills page for information on making a new will, or changing an existing one.

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*Court fees are subject to change



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