How to file for a divorce in England and Wales – a step by step guide

One of the most common things I hear in my work as a divorce coach is ‘I want to get divorced, but I have no idea where to start’. Most people are first-time and one-time purchasers of divorce services so not surprisingly getting the ball rolling feels daunting. Arming yourself with an overview of the process can reduce stress and help you if you’re doing a DIY divorce.  The below steps will guide you through how to file for a divorce in England and Wales:

  1. First things first – To get divorced in England or Wales you must have been married a year. If you haven’t you can either wait or investigate a judicial separation. See our blog on Judicial separation for more on this.
  2. You will need an original copy of your marriage certificate. If you’ve lost it, a new one can be ordered from the registrar where you married or from the government website. If your marriage certificate is not written in English, you must get it translated and notarised.
  3. Decide who will be the petitioner (the person starting the divorce) and who will be the respondent (the person responding to the divorce petition). It doesn’t really matter unless of course, you are using Adultery (only the person who is on the receiving end of adultery can petition for divorce) or Unreasonable Behaviour.
  4. Decide what ground for divorce you will use. There are five reasons you can use to divorce in England and Wales including: two years separation, five years separation, adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion.
  5. Fill out a divorce petition (you can get this from the government website). Be very careful to fill out each box as required – spell everything correctly and use the help printed on the side of the petition.
  6. Pay the divorce court fee of £550. Enclose a cheque or tick the ‘pay by debit card box’. Check if you are exempt/eligible for a discount (you can check on the government website or give us a call).
  7. You must send three copies of the divorce petition to the court along with your marriage certificate. You need to send it to your local divorce center (you can find the address on the government website).
  8. Wait for confirmation from the court and pay the court fees if you didn’t send a cheque.
  9. Let your ex know their paperwork is on its way and that they will need to sign and return it to the court.
  10. Your ex will need to sign a form that the court will send to them with the petition called an Acknowledgement of Service Form. If they don’t or you don’t hear anything from the court you should ring the court helpline on 0300 303 0642. You may need to serve papers to ensure your ex receives them.
  11. Once your ex has returned the AOS or the court has agreed your ex has received the divorce papers you will be able to apply for your Decree Nisi. You can download the form from the government website (there are two forms you must fill in – the second form depends on the grounds you have used).
  12. The court will write you and let you know when your Decree Nisi will be pronounced. They will send you a certificate.
  13. Six weeks and one day after the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi you can apply for the final piece of paper – the Decree Absolute.

Once you receive your Decree Absolute – you are officially divorced. Keep the paperwork safe and start your new chapter!

amicable’s top tips

  • Where possible, make sure your partner agrees before you start divorce proceedings. If they contest the divorce, it can prolong the process and be expensive.
  • Seek expert advice if you are unsure how to fill out the forms. The rejection rate for divorce applications is high, do your research before sending off the paperwork.
  • Take a pragmatic approach to the paperwork. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have no-fault divorce so try and view the paperwork (especially the most commonly used reason of ‘unreasonable behaviour’) as a means to an end.
  • Did you know you/your ex can still make a financial claim in the future even though you’re divorced? Decide if you want to make your financial split legally binding through a consent order. A consent order will put an end to any future claims.

If you are unsure about any of the above, please call us on 0203 004 4695 or comment below and we’ll get back to you.

Kate Daly is a co-founder of amicable. Kate is a divorce expert and helps couples and separated parents navigate divorce and separation amicably. She's passionate about changing the way the world divorces and campaigns for fairer divorce laws and access to justice.

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