The Ultimate Step By Step Walkthrough Of The Divorce Process In The UK
What follows is a complete step by step walkthrough of the divorce process in the UK. If you decide to manage the divorce process yourself, you will find this guide invaluable. And if you are using a high street solicitor it will give you more than enough information to make sure that you are not taken advantage of, and they process your divorce efficiently.
This divorce process guide is very thorough, it details every step. If the divorce process is new to you, you might want to read our online divorce primer that gives a handy overview.
It also assumes that you have decided on your grounds for divorce. If you have done this yet, read about the five grounds for divorce here.
The UK Divorce Process
Step 1. File the Divorce Petition
Once you are clear on the grounds for divorce that you are going to use. The first step in the divorce process is to complete the D8 form (Application for a Divorce or Dissolution).
Before you apply for a divorce, you will need your wife’s full name and address and your original marriage certificate or a certified copy.
To apply for the divorce yourself, visit the Government website. You can either download the D8 Application form and apply by post or follow the steps to apply online. The rest of this walkthrough assumes you are processing your divorce by post.
Your completed form must be sent to your Regional Divorce Centre.
To find your divorce centre visit the Court Tribunal Finder.
Select Search by ‘The Area of Law I am interested in’ and click next.
Under about your issue, select ‘Divorce: ending a marriage’ or ‘Civil Partnership’ as applicable, and click continue.
Under about your divorce (or civil partnership) select ‘I want to start proceedings’ and click continue.
Finally, enter your postcode to get the address of your area’s divorce centre.
You must send three copies of your completed application form. One copy will be returned to you for your records, one is for the court, and one is for the court to send to your spouse.
Note: If you are divorcing your husband or wife because of adultery and have named a co-respondent, you will need an additional (fourth) copy of the Petition for that person.
In addition to the D8 form, you need to send the original or certified copy of your marriage/civil partnership certificate. Photocopies are not accepted. You will need a certified translation if your certificate is in a foreign language.
If you don’t have your original marriage certificate and you were marriage in England or Wales, you can order a certified copy from here.
The cost of the certificate starts from £11
The court sets court fees. They must be paid at the very beginning of the divorce process when submitting the Divorce Petition. The cost is currently £550. These costs are paid directly to the court. On page 1 of the D8 form, you choose how you will pay. If paying by cheque post it along with the D8 and your marriage certificate. Cheques should be made out to HMCTS (HM Courts & Tribunals Service).
If you chose to pay by debit/credit card, the court will phone you between 9 am and 4 pm Monday to Friday using the contact details you’ve provided.
If you have less than £3,000 savings and are in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income, then you may be able to apply to the court for a fee remission or a reduced fee.
To apply complete a Court Fee Exception application form (EX160A) or apply online here.
Recap of the first stage of the divorce process:
- Get the address of your Regional Divorce Centre to send your divorce application
- Include three copies of your D8 form (four if naming a co-respondent)
- Include the original or a certified copy of your marriage certificate
- If paying by cheque include this payable to HMCTS
The court will review your application once they have received it. If all of the information is correct, you will be sent:
- A notice that your application has been issued.
- A copy of your application stamped by the divorce centre.
- A case number.
Step 2. Acknowledgement of Service
Once the court has received your Petition, you will receive a D9H (Notice Of Issue Of Petition). The D9H confirms that the Petition has been received and states when it was sent on to the Respondent.
The court posts a copy of your Petition with Form D10 (Acknowledgement Of Service) to the Respondent and any named co-respondent.
The Respondent (and any co-respondent) has eight days to return the Form D10. When they return their D10 to the court, the court will seal (stamp) it and send you a copy; and this is your proof that the Respondent has received the Petition.
If you are managing the divorce process yourself it is essential that you and your spouse agree to the divorce. It is worth repeating that you should agree on the reason for divorce and the description of the events to ensure that your spouse returns Form D10 and doesn’t defend it.
Although you anticipate that your spouse will cooperate, things can change, and we have provided answers to some FAQ at the end of this article.
Step 3. Applying for the Decree Nisi
Once you’ve received a copy of form D10 you complete one of following documents depending on the grounds for your divorce:
- D80A – Adultery
- D80B – Unreasonable Behaviour
- D80C – Desertion
- D80D – 2 Years Separation with Consent
- D80E – 5 Years Separation.
You also need to complete form D84 (Application for a decree nisi conditional order or (judicial) separation decree order).
Send your completed D80 and D84 forms, and a copy of the D10 (known as the Exhibit as it provides evidence of the Acknowledge of Service) to your Regional Divorce Centre.
The court receives and reviews these documents before passing to a judge for final approval. It is impossible to say precisely how long this will take. Electronic filings submitted by Easy Online Divorce are coming back in 2-3 weeks, but paper filings take longer. If you are filing a paper petition yourself expect a minimum of eight weeks.
When the judge confirms that you can have a divorce, the court will send you and the Respondent (and any co-respondent) a Form D84A (certificate of entitlement to a decree).
Form D84A will tell you the time and date when the judge will grant your divorce. This is called pronouncing the Decree Nisi.
There is no need for you to attend court on that date; a copy of the decree nisi (form D29) will be posted to you.
Step 4. Apply for the Decree Absolute
Wait at least 43 days (six weeks and one day) have passed since your Decree Nisi was pronounced, before moving on to the final step of the divorce process. Complete Form D36 (notice of application for Decree Nisi to be made absolute) and post it to your Regional Divorce Court.
This form is processed relatively quickly, and you will receive Form D37 (Decree Absolute). Keep this form safe as it is evidence of your divorce. You are now legally entitled to remarry.
Before making an application for the decree absolute, it is wise to consider having a financial consent order. This should be sent to the court before the absolute application to be sealed, making it binding once the decree absolute is granted.
The application fee for lodging the order with the court is £50. A consent order makes any financial agreement you both have legally binding. It also ends any financial claims either of you has on each other’s assets now and in the future.
The Divorce Process – Frequently Asked Questions
To successfully manage the divorce process you must ensure that your spouse agrees to your divorce. For the easiest and quickest divorce to take place, you need their cooperation. We recommend that you do everything you can to facilitate this. Of course, we also recognise that this is hard.
Right now, with emotions raw, you might hate your spouse. But now is not the time to wage war. If you try to exert any kind of punishment, your spouse is likely to react in kind, and conflict escalates. If this happens and you can’t contain it, you will find yourself on a fast track to a solicitors office.
As fantastic as solicitors are, they are expensive. You will be surprised at how quickly their costs rack up depleting money that you and your kids could put to better use.
The following are common scenarios when things go wrong. We hope you don’t need them.
What will happen if the Respondent (or co-respondent) does not receive the Petition?
If the address you gave for the Respondent (or co-respondent) is wrong, or they have moved, the Post Office will return the Petition and other forms to the court.
The court will send you Form D9A (notice of non-service of Petition). To proceed with your divorce, you must find the correct address and let the court know. The court will post the Petition and other forms to the new address.
What will happen if the Respondent (or any co-respondent) does not return the Form D10 to the court?
When the Respondent received the acknowledgement of service form (D10), they may do one of three things:
- Fill in the Form D10 saying that they agree with the Petition and return it to the court.
- Fill in the Form D10 saying that they intend to contest your Petition and / or the court’s jurisdiction and return it to the court.
- Ignore the Petition and not return the Form D10 to the court.
If the Respondent has ignored the D10, you can instruct bailiffs to serve the Petition. To do this, complete Form D89 (Request For Bailiff Service).
Return the two copies of this form to the court along with a photograph or written description of the Respondent (and any co-respondent). Include the fee of £110 for each person being served, which is payable to the court. Make your cheque out to ‘HM Courts & Tribunal Service’.
The county court bailiff will then be asked to deliver the Petition and other documents to the Respondent (or co-respondent) personally.
When you have received your copy of Form D10 (Acknowledgement Of Service) from the court, check the answer the Respondent (and any co-respondent) has given to the question, “Do you intend to defend the case?”
If the answer is “No” proceed from Step 3 of the divorce process: Applying for the Decree Nisi.
What should I do if the Respondent (or any co-respondent) says they intend to defend the case?
Wait for 29 days from the day they say they received your Petition. If after 29 days you have not received a copy of the defence, (called the ‘answer’) you can proceed as if they are not defending the Petition (from Step 3: Applying for the Decree Nisi).
You will need the help of a solicitor if you receive a copy of the Respondent’s (or any Co-Respondent’s) answer.
What happens if the Judge says I cannot have a divorce?
The court will send you Form D79 (Notice Of Refusal Of Judge’s Certificate). The form will tell you why the judge has decided your case is not in order. In most cases, the court will need further information. You will be told what extra information is required.
If the judge feels your case cannot be decided from the written information supplied, there may have to be a court hearing. This is called ‘removing your case from the special procedure list and entering it in the undefended list’. If this happens, you should seek the advice of a solicitor. You will have to attend a court hearing for this.
How long does the divorce process take?
The first part of the divorce process that includes filing your divorce petition with the court and your spouse acknowledging the divorce takes around six weeks.
It will then take a further eight weeks for a judge will consider your application and grant permission to apply for a divorce.
When the judge confirms that you can have a divorce, the court will send you and your spouse a certificate of entitlement to a decree, that will tell you the time and date when the judge will grant your divorce. This is called pronouncing the Decree Nisi.
Six weeks and one day after your Decree Nisi pronouncement date, you can apply for your Decree Absolute.
It then takes a further couple of weeks for your Decree Absolute certificate to arrive.
What do you do if you haven’t got your marriage certificate?
To get a divorce in England and Wales, you must provide the court with a copy of your original marriage certificate. So what happens if you’ve lost your divorce certificate? Does that mean you can’t get divorced? Thankfully not, there are solutions available.
Maybe you’ve lost it, or your spouse won’t give it to you. Either way, if you don’t have your original marriage certificate, you need to get a Certified Copy Marriage Certificate.
Many local councils have a dedicated area on their website, that helps you obtain lost marriage certificates. Google the name of the local authority where your marriage took place along with ‘marriage certificate’ to find the right page. Costs are usually around £11, and next day priority services cost £35.
Perhaps easier, you can replace your lost marriage certificate at the General Register Office (GRO). A Certified Copy Marriage Certificate costs £14, and there is the next day option for £35.
How do I replace a lost marriage certificate if I wasn’t married in England or Wales?
For weddings in Scotland, contact the National Records of Scotland (NROS) for an Official Extract from the Register. Copy certificates cost £12, and at the time of writing online applications take up to 15 working days to process.
If you were married in Northern Ireland, contact the General Registry of Northern Ireland (GRONI). Copy certificates cost £15.
What do I do if I was marriage outside of the UK?
Every country has different regulations, meaning you will need to contact the relevant authorities to obtain a copy of your marriage certificate. The country’s embassy is a good place to start, and many allow you to order directly on their websites.
To add a little more complexity. If your marriage certificate is not in English, you have to provide the court with a certified translation of your marriage certificate.
What is the divorce process in Scotland?
Two types of procedures can be used in Scotland to apply for divorce. These are often known as the simplified procedure and the ordinary procedure. If you meet the requirements of the simplified procedure, it will take around two months for the divorce to be complete. If you do not qualify, you will need to seek advice from a solicitor and follow the ordinary procedure.
To qualify for the simplified procedure, you need to have lived in Scotland for at least six months immediately before the application and be domiciled in Scotland. Additionally, you and your spouse need to have lived apart for at least one year and your spouse must consent to the divorce. If your spouse does not consent, you will qualify for this process if you have lived apart for two years. Lastly, there must be no children of the marriage under the age of 16, and neither you nor your spouse can claim any lump sum or maintenance payment.
What is the divorce process in Northern Ireland?
Applying for divorce is the same in Northern Ireland as it is in England and Wales. A divorce petition must be grounded on one of the same five reasons:
- Two years’ separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce.
- Five years’ separation.
- Unreasonable behaviour.
If your wife agrees or is likely to conform to the divorce, you don’t need to hire a solicitor. Instead, you can contact the Matrimonial Office for guidance on bringing a petition for divorce as a personal petitioner. However, you should contact a solicitor if your wife does not consent to divorce or if she defends the case after the petition was issued.
Is the divorce process changing soon?
Unreasonable behaviour is the most common ground for divorce in the UK. This reason is cited most often, because UK divorce law does not have a no-fault system. One party must blame the other to obtain a divorce unless they are prepared to wait a minimum period of two years.
To prove that a marriage has broken down due to unreasonable behaviour, the petitioner must show that the respondent has behaved in such a way that they cannot be expected to live together.
On the 9th April 2019, it was announced that changes to the law will be put before Parliament. One of the proposals for reform is to replace the requirement to provide evidence of unreasonable behaviour with a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. They also propose to remove the ability to contest a divorce.
If these changes are approved, obtaining a divorce will be quicker and more straightforward. Additionally, in all cases, you could file for divorce yourself without the need of a solicitor and thus minimise your legal costs. With the focus on Brexit, no date was set for the changes. And then the coronavirus pandemic happened. Its possible that Parliament may look at this in 2021 once the UK leaves Europe.
Now that you understand the divorce process you are either raring to go or more confused than ever. Wherever you are at, we have a service to support you.
DIY Divorce Options
If you are generally comfortable with the process and just want a bit more support our DIY options are for you.
We provide all of the divorce documents along with a guide on how to complete each one of them for only £29.
For those who want to remove the stress of filling in court forms and the worry of making mistakes, we have a Completed & Verified Service for £49. Complete a simple five-minute questionnaire, and we will have all of your documents completed for you within 24 hours.
In both of these DIY services, you still file your own divorce petition, but we give you support along the way to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.
This is where we do everything for you – we draft and file all divorce documents with the courts, and manage communication between the court, your spouse or any opposing solicitors. This costs only £169.
Help! I need more information.
If you are still confused about divorce and need more help why not request a call back below? You can explain your situation and we can offer guidance on your options.