Following the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 6 April 2022, if you wish to start a divorce you can do so based only on the fact that you believe that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. It is no longer necessary to prove fault on the part of your spouse. There are only exceptional circumstances where a party to a marriage might be able to challenge the application for divorce.
To apply for a divorce in England and Wales, you must have been married for at least one year. Also, one of you must have lived in England or Wales during the whole of the year before or be domiciled there.
The divorce process involves five stages:
Filing an application for divorce through the digital portal
Responding to a divorce application
Allowing the 20-week period of reflection to elapse
Applying for a conditional order
Applying for a final order
1. Filing a divorce application
For the first time, parties to a marriage are able to make an application jointly for divorce. Therefore, the first decision you will need to make is whether to apply on your own or jointly with your spouse.
The applicant or applicants apply for a divorce using the digital portal. A copy of the marriage certificate must be provided, along with details about both parties and a court fee of £593 is payable. It is possible to apply for help with fees if you receive certain benefits or are of limited income.
Once the application has been issued by the court, you will be given a case and reference number for all future dealings with the court.
2. Responding to the application for divorce
The court may send the papers to your spouse by email, but will usually also post a copy along with a notice of proceedings and a response to a divorce form. Your spouse will be asked to complete the response or to go onto the digital portal and complete the response there.
If your spouse fails to complete their response, there are procedures available to enable you to progress the application.
3. Allowing the 20-week period of reflection to elapse
Built into the new no-fault divorce process is a period of reflection that lasts 20 weeks. The purpose of this is to enable the parties to consider carefully whether or not they wish to press on with the application for divorce. You are encouraged to try and use this time to settle arrangements for any minor children and finances.
4. Applying for a conditional order
The applicant can usually apply for a conditional order, formerly decree nisi, 20 weeks after the application has been issued. The conditional order does not mean that you are divorced. You remain married to your spouse until the final order has been granted, which will be at least 6 weeks after the conditional order.
5. Applying for the final order
Either party may apply for the final order (formerly decree absolute) 6 weeks and 1 day after the date of the conditional order.
Be aware, it is advisable, if you are not to jeopardise your financial health, to delay applying for the final order until financial matters have been settled between you and your spouse.
As divorce can be a complex process, you might find it useful to seek professional legal advice at the start and during the process so that you understand your rights and your entitlement and to ensure that any decisions made are legally binding.
We have specialist family lawyers to advise on all aspects of relationship breakdown, including divorce, separation and the resolution of financial and children matters. For more information, please contact our Family Law Team who would be happy to advise you.
Are you considering getting a divorce? Download our free guide and find out the six key decisions you need to make.
[Originally published in July 2018; updated on 8 April 2022]