Katie Beal

Senior Associate, Department Head

Family and Matrimonial


Divorce The Procedure

Katie Beal

DIVORCE: PROCEDURE

Divorce Petition

This is the document that sets out the details of your marriage and the facts on which you are relying for the divorce (see our fact sheet Divorce: The Law).

We will complete the Divorce Petition, which will need to be sent to Court with the original Marriage Certificate. Where the original Certificate is not available, we can obtain a certified copy of the Certificate from the Register Office or the place of your marriage. 

Court Procedure

The Petition is sent to Court detailing the fact stated for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, together with your marriage certificate and the Court fee, currently £410. If you are on a low income, it may be possible to apply for a reduction of that fee or in some cases, pay no fee at all. You will need to provide the Court with detailed evidence of your income and capital for this to be considered. 

When the Court processes the Divorce Petition, it checks the divorce papers and will then usually send a copy of the Divorce Petition to the Respondent together with a form known as an Acknowledgement of Service Form. 

The Respondent should complete the Acknowledgement of Service Form, which states whether he/she agrees to the divorce and whether they object to any claim for costs in the Petition.

The Respondent then returns the Acknowledgement of Service Form to Court. That step is the Respondent’s only involvement in a straight forward divorce.

If the Respondent does not return the Acknowledgement of Service Form, the Petitioner may in some circumstances arrange to serve the Petition personally on the Respondent by using a Court Bailiff or Process Server. In some circumstances, it may be possible for the Court to dispense with the need to serve the Respondent. Expert advice should be sought if there are problems with service of the Petition.

Decree Nisi

Once the Court has received the Acknowledgment of Service Form from the Respondent, the Petitioner then fills in a Statement in support of his or her application for Decree Nisi. The Statement confirms that the contents of the Petition are still accurate and identifies the Respondent’s signature on the Acknowledgement of Service Form. 

The Petitioner then applies for the Decree Nisi.

Once the Court is satisfied that you should have a divorce, it sets a time and date for the Judge to pronounce the Decree Nisi. The Decree Nisi is a statement that the divorce can go ahead. The Decree Nisi is not the final decree of divorce, it is the middle stages in the divorce and you are still married at this time. On pronouncing the Decree Nisi, the Court also deals with any Order for Costs and directs who should pay the Petitioner’s legal costs. 

Decree Absolute

Six weeks and a day after the Decree Nisi has been pronounced, the Petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute of Divorce. Sometimes, the Petitioner will be advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until financial issues have been resolved. This is because the divorce will change the spouse’s legal rights in relation to financial matters. We will advise you further regarding the individual circumstances of your case.

If the Petitioner does not apply for the Decree Absolute of Divorce, the Respondent may make an application for the Decree Absolute three months after the first date on which the Petitioner could have applied. The Respondent will require the Court’s permission for the Decree Absolute to be made. 

It is important to note that neither the Petitioner nor the Respondent will have to go to Court during a straight forward, undefended divorce. The whole procedure takes place on paper. The only circumstances in which either party would need to attend would be where there was a disagreement about who paid the costs of the divorce or where proceedings became defended.

In practice, although the Respondent may object to the details of the divorce or the allegations made against him or her in the Divorce Petition, it is very rare for divorce to be defended. In the vast majority of cases, any difficulties can be overcome and the procedure is straightforward. 

Time Estimate

Provided there are no delays in sending the required forms to the Court by either party and provided the divorce is not defended, then a straightforward divorce will usually take between 4- 6 months from the date of issue of the Divorce Petition to the granting of the Decree Absolute. 

Our Family Law department can help guide you through the divorce process and what can be a difficult time. 

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