Step-by-step guide on how to file for a divorce in the UK:
Starting the divorce or dissolution process can feel daunting.
Understanding the divorce process can reduce stress and help you find the best way to file for divorce.
In this guide, we will take you through the entire process of filing for a divorce step-by-step but first, let’s look at what your options are for managing the divorce process.
The legal steps you will need to take are almost always the same (if it’s a straightforward divorce/ dissolution) but the way in which you manage the process varies.
What options do I have when filing for a divorce or dissolution?
What is a DIY divorce in the UK? A DIY divorce is where you manage the divorce process yourself and you can do so online using the government's divorce portal.
amicable online divorce service
Many people find managing the divorce process themselves tricky and stressful - amicable offer various online services that manage your divorce for you from start to finish. We sort out the legal bits so that you can focus on what really matters to you.
Divorce lawyer / solicitor
If you feel you need the protection of a lawyer or solicitor then this option is always available to you. This route is necessary if there are any danger signs or the potential for international jurisdiction.
If your divorce is amicable with no complications, there are definitely cheaper options available. You don’t need a solicitor to have an expert manage your divorce for you.
What do you need to start divorce proceedings?
- To be married / in a civil partnership for at least one year.
- At least one address for you and or your ex must be in England or Wales
- An original/ certified copy of your marriage certificate, in English. Click here for advice on getting a new copy or translated 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.)
- Todecide who will start the divorce and who will respond to it (the person filing for divorce).
Decide what reason you will use. There are currently five grounds you can choose from:
- unreasonable behaviour
- two years separation (both of you agree)
- five years separation (only one person has to agree)
£550 to pay the government, see this as a filing / admin fee. You can also check if you / your ex is entitled to a discount on the court fees here.
Once you have these things to hand, the below steps will guide you through how to file for a divorce in England and Wales:
Divorce process guide- step-by-step how to file for divorce in England and Wales.
Step one: The divorce or dissolution petition (also called the D8)
Submitting your divorce or dissolution petition is how you initially file for divorce and there are various ways of doing this. You can do this part yourself. Alternatively, if you want/ need support from a divorce expert, read through the various options available to you in our straightforward guide to divorce options or speak to one of our experts today to discuss your personal situation and how we can help you.
You will have to decide whether you or your ex will be the petitioner (the person filing for divorce) and who will be the respondent (the person responding to the petition). The agreed party should fill out the paper divorce/ dissolution petition or online divorce/ dissolution petition. Be very careful to fill out each box as required – spell everything correctly and use the help printed on the side of the petition/ on the government website.
For a paper petition, make sure to pay the divorce court fee of £550 by enclosing a cheque or ticking 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).
If you are posting the divorce paperwork, you must send three copies of the divorce petition to the court along with your marriage certificate.
If you are using the online government portal, you can pay at the end of the online form, however your petition won’t be submitted until you’ve paid the court fees. You can attach a scan or image of your marriage certificate, however the court may ask you to post it in as further proof.
You need to send it to your local divorce centre (you can find the address on the government website).
Once the court has processed your divorce/ dissolution paperwork, you will receive the notice of issue – either by email (for the online system) or in the post for the paper route.
Once you have confirmation that your divorce/ dissolution has been issued, let your ex know their paperwork is on its way.
Step two: The acknowledgement of service
The acknowledgement of service form (AOS) needs to be completed by the other person. If you filed a paper divorce/ dissolution petition, they will have received all the paperwork in the post and will need to complete the AOS form and send it back to the court.
If you’ve chosen the online route, the respondent is sent a letter with log-in details for them to acknowledge receipt of the petition online.
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.
Step three: Apply for your decree nisi (D84)
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.
For the traditional paper route, you can download the relevant forms from our decree nisi guide (there are two forms you must fill in – the second form depends on the grounds you have used).
If you are using the government's online system – you will be asked to fill out the decree nisi application online. This consists of a few questions.
This is when a judge will review your application and either agree or disagree that you have grounds to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership.
If they agree the relationship has broken down and is past the point of repair, you will both receive a ‘decree nisi pronouncement date’ and then a ‘decree nisi certificate’ confirming you are entitled to a divorce/ dissolution.
If the court rejects your decree nisi application, they may come back with questions, or ask you to amend your original petition. It’s important to ensure your application does not have errors as this will cause delays and further costs. If you would like help with your divorce paperwork, amicable offer flat-fee services that help you with all or some of it.
Step four: Apply for a consent order (optional)
If you would like to sort out your finances, you should submit a consent order. A consent order spells out how you both plan to split your finances (assets, debts, income etc). It’s a good idea to have one if you have assets to split and want to make sure any agreement you come to is legally binding. amicable offer a consent order drafting service, to help you with this stage of the divorce/ dissolution process.
Step five: Apply for your decree absolute (D36)
Six weeks and one day after the decree nisi pronouncement date, the petitioner (the person that filed the first petition) can apply for the decree absolute which is the final part of the filing for divorce process.
Once you receive your decree absolute – you are officially divorced. Keep the paperwork safe and start your new chapter!
amicable's top tips when filing for divorce:
Tip 1: 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.
Tip 2: 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 and ask for help if you think you might fill it in incorrectly.
Tip 3: Take a pragmatic approach to the paperwork. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have no-fault divorce so try to view the paperwork (especially the most commonly used reason of ‘unreasonable behaviour’) as a means to an end.
Tip 4: 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.
How long does it take to divorce / end your civil partnership?
It depends. For a more detailed answer, we've created a guide for how long a divorce takes with tips on how to speed the process up.
On average, if there are no bumps in the road, it takes three to six months for all of the divorce paperwork to be completed and your divorce/dissolution made legally binding through the courts. You can request a personalised estimate by answering a few simple questions here.
Tip 5: Online divorces tend to go through more quickly than paper divorces, however if there are any complications in the divorce, you may only be able to go down the paper route.
Ending your financial relationship and the possibility of future claims
It’s very important that you’re aware that ending your marriage or civil partnership through the courts does not end your financial relationship.
As mentioned above, if you want or need to legalise your arrangements and end your financial claims you’ll need to get a consent order.
A consent order (sometimes called a financial order) is a completely different legal process that can be completed either as you divorce (generally the best option) or after.
What is the first thing to do when getting a divorce?
The first thing you must do to file for divorce is choose who will be the petitioner and then submit the divorce petition. You have to pay the court fee and have a copy of your marriage certificate.
How much does a divorce cost in the UK in 2021?
The cost of divorce varies, depending on the method used. If you are having a DIY divorce, the most it will cost is the initial £550 court fee (unless you are exempt). We have written a helpful guide on the cost of divorce/ dissolution and how to keep the costs down.
What is unreasonable behaviour in a marriage?
Unreasonable behaviour in a marriage can be several different things. For example; not socialising as a couple, no longer being physically intimate and no longer having shared interests. For more examples of unreasonable behaviour and how to use them to divorce your partner, read our guide here.
Is it better to file for divorce or be served?
It doesn’t usually matter who is the petitioner and who is the respondent. If you are amicable, then mutually decide which way round you would like it to be and realise that the process should be a means to an end.