Getting Divorced: A Guide To The Divorce Process

What are the grounds for divorce? How does the divorce process work? Find out everything you need to know about divorce in our simple guide.

By MyLegalAdviser - Last Updated October 2018

Whether you've been thinking about getting divorced or your partner has asked for one, it's important you know how it works and the steps you'll need to take.


What is a divorce?

Divorce: the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body.

In plain speak, it's the formal ending of a marriage.

A marriage has to be formally ended because, in the UK, it's not possible to simply end a marriage by agreement. You need a court order to make it official.

Divorce vs dissolution

Divorce and dissolution are both ways for couples in the UK to end a legally binding relationship.

The key difference is whether the couple is married or in a civil partnership:

  • If a couple is married, they'll need a divorce to end their relationship.
  • If they are in a civil partnership, they'll need a dissolution.

When can you get divorced?

You’ll usually need to have been married for at least a year before you can start the divorce process.

At present, there's only one legal ground for divorce in the UK, that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

In order to prove a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the person who files for divorce (called the petitioner) will need to establish one of five facts.

(NB: There are plans to move to a no fault system soon, so watch this space.)

Grounds for divorce

The five reasons for a marriage having irretrievably broken down are:


  1. Adultery (i.e. your spouse was unfaithful).
  2. Unreasonable behaviour (your spouse behaved so badly you can no longer live with them – e.g. they subjected you to physical or verbal abuse or were an alcoholic or drug addict).
  3. Desertion (your spouse left without your agreement, for no good reason, in order to end your relationship for more than two out of the last two and a half years).
  4. You’ve been separated 2 years or more and your spouse consents to the divorce.
  5. You’ve been separated for 5 years or more regardless of whether your spouse consents.

Unreasonable behaviour is the most common reason given for divorce as it covers a multitude of reasons why the relationship may have broken down.

How does the divorce process work?

Most people think a divorce will deal with ending the marriage, making a financial settlement and agreeing arrangements for children.

However, these are actually three separate processes. They just usually take place around the same time.


  1. Ending the marriage/civil partnership (i.e. the actual divorce) - this process begins once the dissolution or divorce petition form is filed with the court. Once the court is satisfied the grounds for divorce are met, it will issue a decree nisi or conditional order. After 6 weeks you’ll usually be able to apply for a decree absolute or final order to end the marriage.
  2. Financial settlement - these proceedings can only be started once an application for divorce has been made to the court. The final financial order cannot be made until the decree nisi or conditional order is made and the order will generally only take effect once the decree absolute or final order to grant the divorce is made.
  3. Making arrangements for children - these proceedings can be started at any time before or during the divorce process.

First, let's look at the actual process for ending the marriage (i.e. the divorce).

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Signing divorce papers

Ending the marriage (the divorce)

There are four main stages to a divorce:

Step 1: Filing the petition

The first step in getting divorced is for one spouse (the petitioner) to file the petition. This is done using Form D8.

If you are on good terms, you can decide between you who does this and the reason for the divorce.

You'll also need to state whether you also want the divorce to deal with children and finances (which are dealt with separately to the main divorce process).


To file the divorce petition with the court, you'll need to send the following to your Regional Divorce Centre:

  • three copies of the completed D8 application form
  • an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate (with a certified translation if not in English)
  • Completed Form C8 (if you want to keep contact details confidential)
  • Completed Form A (if you want to make a financial settlement)
  • cheque for court fee (usually £550 for divorce plus extra for a financial settlement)

To keep things amicable, it's usually best to send a copy of the petition to the other spouse before filing the divorce papers with the court.

Once the court receives the petition, it will issue divorce papers to the other spouse. This usually takes 2 - 3 weeks.

Step 2: Filing the response

Once the other spouse (known as the respondent) receives the papers from the court, they have 7 days to file what's known as an acknowledgement of service.

In the acknowledgement of service, the respondent will confirm whether or not they agree to the divorce and any proposed arrangement relating to children and finances.

If the respondent doesn't agree, they'll need to complete Form D8B stating the reason why they're defending the divorce and return this to the court.


If the respondent misses the 7 day deadline, the court won't automatically chase them. Instead, the petitioner will need to prove that papers have been served on the respondent. In order to prove the papers have been served, the petitioner will either need:

  • some evidence the respondent has received the papers (e.g. a text or email saying they've received the papers); or
  • to instruct a court bailiff or process server to personally hand deliver the documents to the respondent.

Once this is done, the petitioner can ask the court to continue with the divorce process (even if the respondent hasn't replied).

Step 3: Applying for the decree nisi

Once the respondent completes the acknowledgement of service (or the petitioner can prove they've received the divorce papers) the petitioner can go ahead and apply for the Decree Nisi.

To apply for the Decree Nisi the petitioner will need to complete Form D84 and the correct Form D80 depending on the reason for the divorce:

These will need to be sent to the court and, assuming there's no issues, the Decree Nisi will be made.

The Decree Nisi isn't the end of the divorce process. It's essentially the court saying they see no reason why a divorce can't be granted. To finalise the divorce, you'll need to apply for the Decree Absolute.

Step 4: Applying for the decree absolute

A minimum of 6 weeks must pass after the Decree Nisi before the Decree Absolute can be made. Leaving it too long (more than a year) can also cause issues as you'll need to explain the delay to the court.

To apply for the Decree Absolute, the petitioner will need to complete and file Form D36. The date for the Decree Absolute must be at least 6 weeks after the Decree Nisi is pronounced.

If the petitioner doesn't apply for the Decree Absolute, the respondent can apply four and a half months after the Decree Nisi is made.

If you want a legally binding arrangement for dividing finances and property, you'll need to apply for this before the Decree Absolute can be made.

Once the Decree Absolute is made, the divorce process is complete and you are legally separated.

Download your free divorce flowchart

Dealing with children and finances

The divorce process doesn't automatically deal with finances and children. If you want a legally binding agreement on these, you'll need to ask the court for one.

Do you need a legally binding agreement?

If you can agree on arrangements for children and finances, you may not need a legally binding agreement. This will usually be the case where things are amicable and you don't have many assets to divide.

If you have children but don't feel you need a legally binding agreement, one option may be to create a Parenting Plan instead of a legally binding agreement. This is a written document recording how you'll share the care of your children. It isn't legally binding, but it can help ensure you're both on the same page.


A parenting plan can help you avoid the need for expensive court proceedings if things are amicable. Post a free job on our site to get quotes from local solicitors to help prepare a Parenting Plan.

Without a legally binding financial agreement, the door is left open to a potential financial action until you remarry. For this reason, many divorcing couples opt for a legally binding agreement in relation to their financial affairs.


Without a legally binding agreement on finances, your ex-spouse could make a claim down the line.

Making a legally binding agreement for finances and/or children

If you want a legally binding agreement on children and/or finances, there are two ways to go about this:

  • Consent order - where you are able to agree, or come to an agreement with some help.
  • Court proceedings - where you've at least tried to settle things amicably but haven't been able to.

Consent Order

If you can agree, the easiest way to deal with finances and/or children is to record your agreement in a consent order.

A consent order is a legal document confirming your agreement to divide your finances. The court will approve the consent order and this will then be legally binding.


Make sure you're happy with the division of finances in a consent order, once it's approved it's very difficult to change.

You'll usually need a solicitor to draft a consent order as it will need to be in a form the court will approve.

To get the consent order approved, you'll need to send the relevant documents to the court.


For finances:

  • the draft consent order plus two copies
  • Form D81 statement of information for a consent order
  • Form A notice of application for a financial order (if not already filed)
  • cheque for the court fee (usually £50)

For children:

  • the draft consent order plus two copies
  • Form C100 application to make arrangements for a child plus three copies
  • a cheque for the court fee of £215

You can ask the court to approve a consent order any time between starting the divorce process and obtaining the decree absolute.

Getting help agreeing

If you can't decide between you how to divide your assets or how the children will be looked after, there's plenty of help you can get in order to avoid the expense of going to court (and it really can be expensive!).

We won't go into too much detail here, but we've set out the main options below.


Collaborative law

Both parties instruct their own lawyer but, instead of sorting things out by letter or in court, the divorce is handled by way of a series of four way meetings (involving both of you and your lawyers).

Everyone signs what's known as a 'participation agreement' before issuing divorce proceedings, this means that if either party issues divorce proceedings during the process both lawyers have to stop acting and the collaborative process ends. The idea is that having to start all over again with the expense of new lawyers acts as an incentive to sort things out amicably.


A mediator will help both parties come to an agreement in a structured way. A mediation isn't binding until it's drafted as a consent order and approved by a court. If you can't come to an agreement, you'll need to continue to court proceedings.


An arbitration is similar to court proceedings in that the arbitrator will act like a judge and will make a decision. This decision is binding on both parties. Arbitration is less expensive than court proceedings and will usually be used where collaborative law and mediation didn't work for some or all points and in order to avoid the greater expense of going to court.

You can't usually start court proceedings without at least showing you've considered dispute resolution.

You'll do this by attending what's known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Where there are extenuating circumstances, for example domestic abuse, you won't be required to attend a MIAM.

Sign divorce papers

KEEPING COSTS DOWN: avoiding going to court by coming to an amicable settlement will really help to keep the cost of divorce down.

Court proceedings

If you aren’t able to reach an agreement between yourselves and you've attended the MIAM, you can ask the court to make a ruling on your finances or arrangements for children.

You can start proceedings regarding children or finances at any time between starting the divorce proceedings and the decree absolute.

To ask the court to make a ruling, you'll need to send the court certain documents.


For finances:

  • two copies of Form A notice of application for a financial order
  • a cheque for £255 for the court fee

For children:

  • three copies of Form C100 application to make arrangements for a child
  • a cheque for £215 for the court fee

Once proceedings have been filed in relation to finances or children, the court will set dates to give directions and require certain information to be filed.

For children, an officer from Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Service) will be in touch to carry our safeguarding checks and report to the court.

The court will encourage you to come to an amicable agreement along the way, but if this is not possible there will be a final hearing at which the judge will make a ruling.


We don't want to go on about it too much, but going all the way to a final hearing can be very expensive (and stressful), so it's worth avoiding if possible!

How long does a divorce take?

Provided the process isn’t contentious, it will generally take around 4-6 months for a simple divorce (i.e. end the marriage).

If children and/or finances are involved, the process can take a lot longer (especially if you can't agree).

It's not uncommon for contested divorce proceedings to take years to resolve.

What about a quickie divorce?

We're afraid a 'quickie divorce' is a bit misleading.

That's because a quickie divorce just means the simple process of ending the marriage (i.e. without having to come to an agreement on finances and children).

This can be dealt with in as little as four months, but if you do have finances to agree then you'll definitely want to do this before the divorce is finalised.

What about an online divorce?

There are a number of online divorce services out there.

In reality you aren't usually completing the divorce online, you're just dealing with someone online who helps you to divorce without having to meet face to face.

Using an online service can help keep costs down and works best if you're divorcing amicably, but do be careful to use a reputable service or you could left high and dry.

How much does a divorce cost?

We'd love to give you a simple answer here, but we’re afraid there isn’t one.

Every divorce is different and the cost will depend on your circumstances and how much you can agree between you.

How much are solicitors fees for divorce?

The only way to find out how much divorce will cost you is to get some quotes from solicitors.

That's where our service can help. We'll get you a range of quotes for your exact job from local solicitors in minutes when you post a free job with MyLegalAdviser.

We've analysed thousands of quotes and a simple divorce is likely to cost anywhere from £500 to £1,500 depending on your solicitor.

If you have children and finances to sort out this fee will be higher (especially if you can't agree on things).

What other divorce fees are there?

In addition to any solicitors' fees, you'll also need to pay the court fees.

That's usually £550 for the main application plus extra for dealing with finances and/or children (the amount depends on the type of application).

Can you sort a divorce yourself?

DIY divorce is possible, but we'd only advise going it completely alone if you don't have any children or finances to arrange and the divorce is amicable.


A good family lawyer can mean the difference between a long, combative and costly process and fixing things simply, quickly and without an expensive fight.

If you do have children and/or finances to agree, you don't necessarily need to instruct a solicitor for the entire process. You can do most of the grunt work yourselves (e.g. finding documents and coming to an agreement on finances/children) and ask a solicitor to make sure the divorce papers are filed correctly.

If the divorce isn't amicable, you'll almost certainly need a solicitor for the entire process (especially if you're arguing over the financial settlement and arrangements for children).

Get divorce quotes

MyLegalAdviser has thousands of vetted and rated lawyers ready and waiting to help. Post a job for free and get quick quotes from lawyers near you.


Help & support

There's tonnes of fantastic organisations, charities and resources available to help support you through a difficult divorce, here's just a few: