How to Start Divorce Proceedings

Divorce is an unhappy but sometimes necessary part of life. If you’ve been married for at least one year and your relationship has permanently broken down, divorce is often the answer to your problems. As well as being married for a year, your marriage needs to be recognised in the UK and you need to permanently live in either England or Wales.

There are three main stages in a divorce:

  • Filing a petition for divorce – You will have to apply to the court to be allowed to divorce, showing the reason or reasons why you want to end your marriage.
  • Application for a decree nisi – As long as your spouse has agreed to the petition, you’ll be given a document saying you can go ahead and divorce
  • Application for a decree absolute – You apply for your decree absolute 6 weeks after your decree nisi. Upon receiving this, you are no longer legally married.

Grounds for divorce

You will need to show there are good reasons for the divorce, and there are five reasons to choose from:

  • Adultery

Be aware that adultery is not accepted as a reason if you lived with your spouse for 6 months or more after finding out about the infidelity.

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • You’ve lived apart for more than two years

Your spouse must agree in writing

  • You’ve lived apart for more than five years

You will be able to get the divorce even if your spouse disagrees.

What to include on your petition form

When starting a divorce, you will need to include in your divorce petition form:

  • Your full name and address
  • Your spouse’s full name and address
  • The original or a copy of, your marriage certificate
  • The names and dates of birth of any children you have, no matter how old they are

You will have to pay £410 for the court fee to start a divorce. If you’ve named the person your spouse was unfaithful with, they’ll also receive a copy of the paperwork.

Court hearings

If your spouse is defending, or not agreeing to, the divorce, or if you’re both filing a petition, the court usually holds a hearing to discuss the case. You and your spouse will usually have to attend to try and reach an agreement over the divorce.

Decree nisi

If you’re spouse isn’t contesting the divorce, you will receive a decree nisi, which is a document that says the court doesn’t see any reason you can’t get divorced.

If the judge rejects your application, you will be sent a ‘notice of refusal of judge’s certificate’ form, saying why and what to do next.

Six weeks after your decree nisi, you can apply for a decree absolute.

Decree absolute

After six weeks, you can fill in the ‘notice of application for decree nisi to be made absolute’ form.

The court will check that all time limits have been met and that there are no other reasons not to grant the divorce before sending you the decree absolute.

Once you have the decree absolute, you are divorced and free to remarry, should you wish.