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Getting a divorce in the UK

The divorce process explained

For a free 30-minute initial chat with one of our divorce lawyers, call Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.

Getting a divorce in the UK is more straightforward from 6 April 2022, with a number of significant changes to divorce law in the UK being introduced.

However, this does not mean divorce is easy or something you should handle without consulting a legal expert. It is essential to understand the legal implications of ending your marriage, including for your finances and children.

A divorce lawyer will be able to help you with making a clean break (if there are no matrimonial finances to sort out) or reaching a financial settlement and making this legally binding with a Consent Order. They can also help with making arrangements for children, either voluntarily with your ex-spouse or by applying to a court for a Child Arrangements Order.

In this guide, we will cover how to apply for a divorce in the UK, including:

• Key divorce terms
• Step-by-step guide to how to get a divorce in the UK
• Changes to the divorce process in 2022
• How long does a divorce take?
• How a solicitor can help with divorce
• Alternatives to divorce

If you appoint Woolley & Co, Solicitors to handle your divorce, your lawyer will complete all the paperwork on your behalf, provide advice and guidance at each of the steps and, where necessary, handle communication with your spouse and the solicitors on the other side of your case. This is covered in our fixed price divorce service.

Our UK divorce lawyers can also help with issues surrounding divorce, including divorce financial settlements and arrangements for children.

Need immediate advice on how to divorce in the UK?

Take advantage of a free 30-minute telephone appointment to talk through your situation. We will explain your options and how we can help. You will find our divorce lawyers are friendly, approachable and knowledgeable about all aspects of getting a divorce in the UK.

For a free 30-minute initial chat with one of our divorce lawyers, call Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.

Key divorce terms

Applicant – The person requesting the divorce. From 6 April 2022, both spouses can apply together for a divorce together as Joint Applicants, or one spouse can still make an application by themselves (known as a ‘Sole Application’).

Conditional Order – This is a Court order that states that the Court sees no legal reason why the divorce should not go ahead. Obtaining a Conditional Order is a key interim step in divorce proceedings. Prior to 6 April 2022, the equivalent order was known as a ‘Decree Nisi’.

Divorce Application – This is the name for the forms you need to fill out in order to request a divorce from the Court. Divorce applications are now normally done online, but you can still make a paper application if necessary. Before 6 April 2022, this was known as a ‘Divorce Petition’.

Final Order – This is a Court order which legally ends the marriage. Once a Conditional Order has been granted, you will need to wait 6 weeks before applying for a Final Order. Once the Final Order is granted, you are free to remarry. Prior to 6 April 2022, the equivalent order was known as a ‘Decree Absolute’.

Respondent – If one spouse applies for divorce by themselves, the other spouse who did not make the application is known as the ‘Respondent’. If the couple makes a joint application, then there is no respondent, applicants are known as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2.

Step-by-step guide to how to get a divorce in the UK

Step one – Filing the divorce application

We are often asked how to start divorce proceedings. The first step is to complete a divorce application requesting the Court to grant a divorce. The application must contain the details of both parties and a “statement of irretrievable breakdown” i.e. a declaration that the marriage has broken down and there is no chance of a reconciliation.

If the couple is applying together, this is known as a joint application, and they will be referred to as Joint Applicants. If one spouse is making an application by themselves, they will be referred to as the Applicant, and the other spouse is referred to as the Respondent.

The divorce application, together with the marriage certificate and a Court fee, are sent to the Court to start the divorce process.

Step two – Service of the application (sole applications only)

If a sole application is made, the Court will officially ‘issue’ the divorce application and send it to the Respondent along with a form for the Respondent to complete and return to the Court. This form is known as the Acknowledgement of Service form.

Step three – Acknowledging service of the application (sole applications only)

The Respondent to a sole application is required to return the form to the Court within 14 days, indicating whether or not they wish to dispute the divorce proceedings. If they do want to dispute it, they have to file another form called an ‘Answer’ within 35 days of receiving the Application.

From 6 April 2022, the only grounds on which to dispute a divorce application are:

  • That the Respondent believes the Court in England and Wales does not have the jurisdiction to conduct divorce proceedings in their case, e.g. because neither party lives in or has any connection to this jurisdiction
  • The marriage in question is not valid
  • The marriage has already been legally ended

If the Respondent fails to acknowledge the divorce application within the time limit, the Applicant will still be able to continue with the divorce.

Step four – Applying for a Conditional Order

If the Court are happy with all the documentation received, they will set a date on which the Conditional Order (formerly known as a ‘Decree Nisi’) will ‘pronounced’ in Court. There is a minimum time of 20 weeks from the divorce application being issued by the court before the conditional order is pronounced.

It is not usually necessary for the parties to attend Court to hear the Conditional order being pronounced unless there is a dispute over a cost order.

Step five – Application for the Final Order

Six weeks after the Conditional Order is pronounced, the Sole Applicant or Joint Applicants can apply for the Final Order (formerly known as the ‘Decree Absolute’).

There is a standard application form that must be completed to request the Final Order. Only once this has been granted and sealed are the parties officially divorced.

For Sole Applications, if the Applicant fails to apply for the Final Order, the Respondent can apply 3 months later.

Step six – Receipt of the Final Order

Once the Final Order has been granted and sealed by the Court, the parties are officially divorced. This is an important document, and it should be kept in a safe place.

Changes to the divorce process in 2022

The divorce process in England and Wales has changed significantly from 6 April 2022 when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 took effect.

Key changes introduced by the Act include:

  • Removing the need to give a reason for the breakdown of the marriage (this is referred to as ‘no fault divorce’)
  • Removing the option to contest a divorce started by your spouse (previously, you would potentially have to wait 5 years for a divorce if your spouse did not agree to it)
  • Allowing joint applications (a couple can now apply for a divorce together, although an individual spouse can still make a sole application)
  • Adding a minimum 20 week wait period between the divorce application being received by the Court and the Conditional Order being issued
  • Updating key terminology to be in plain English (see ‘key divorce terms’)

How long does a divorce take?

Under the new divorce rules in place from 6 April 2022, there is a minimum timeframe for divorce. The Court must wait at least 20 weeks from receiving the divorce petition before issuing the Conditional Order and then a further 6 weeks before issuing the Final Order.

This means that even the fastest divorces will now take at least 26 weeks (approximately 6 months). It is likely that most divorces will take 7 – 12 months.

How a solicitor can help with divorce

It is always strongly recommended to consult an expert divorce solicitor when going through a divorce, even if you think your situation is quite straightforward. Key areas where a solicitor can help you with divorce proceedings include:

Clear advice on your rights and issues you need to consider – An experienced divorce solicitor can talk you through how the divorce process works and what to expect, advise you on your rights with respect to finances and children and any other issues you need to consider, such as making a new Will.

Making sure you follow the process correctly – A solicitor can ensure all paperwork is completed correctly and submitted promptly. This helps to avoid the risk of any mistakes or unnecessary delays that could hold up your divorce or add extra cost.

Division of finances – Splitting your finances in a way that is fair and meets your needs plus the needs of any dependants can be a daunting process. A solicitor will be able to help you understand what you are entitled to, support you through negotiating a settlement and assist with making an application to a Court for a Financial Order if an amicable agreement cannot be reached.

Division of finances is not an automatic part of the divorce process, it is something you will need to deal with separately. If you are making an application online yourself, it can be easy to miss this vital step.

Failing to properly sort out your finances when getting divorced can risk leaving yourself vulnerable to future financial claims from your former spouse. It can also leave you without certainty over your future financial security and that of your loved ones.

Arrangements for children – Where children will live, what contact they will have with each parent, where they will go to school, and other key issues will all need to be decided during the divorce, and additional decisions will likely need to be made in future.

A divorce lawyer can advise you on reaching an agreement that protects the best interests of your children and your rights as a parent. If needed, they can also advise on applying to a Court for a Child Arrangements Order.

Again, making arrangements for children is entirely separate to the divorce proceedings to end your marriage and this is not something you can afford to overlook. Getting clear arrangements in place for your children should be a top priority as this can help to make them feel more secure, as well as protecting their wellbeing and your rights as a parent.

Alternatives to divorce

Divorce may not always be an option, either because you have not been married long enough or for religious, cultural or other personal reasons. Depending on the circumstances, alternatives to divorce may be available, including:

Annulment

Annulment involves applying to a Court to declare that your marriage was not legally valid or has become invalid. Unlike for divorce, you can apply for an annulment as soon as you need to – there is no need to wait a set amount of time after the marriage. However, you will need to apply within 3 years of the marriage taking place.

Common reasons for annulment include the marriage not being consummated, a lack of valid consent to the marriage and one party to the marriage being pregnant by another person at the time of the marriage.

Learn more about our expertise with annulment.

Judicial separation

If you are unable to divorce due to religious, cultural or other reasons, a judicial separation (also known as a ‘legal separation’) can allow you to start living separate lives with security for your future.

You can make a separation agreement, also known as a ‘Deed of Separation’, detailing issues such as what happens to the family home and shared assets, where any children will live and what, if any, financial support either party will receive from the other.

A separation can be an alternative to divorce, or it may be a precursor to divorce where you wish to separate but are not sure if you are ready to divorce.

Learn more about our expertise with separation agreements.

Our divorce lawyers nationwide are here for you

We know what a challenging time going through a divorce can be. Our team are here to guide you and make this process as simple and stress-free as possible while making sure you get the best outcome for yourself and your loved ones.

To take advantage of your free 30-minute consultation with our expert divorce lawyers, call 0800 321 3832, or complete our quick online form.

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