Getting A Divorce
Getting a divorce can be a tough and emotional decision. At Lawhive, we’re here to guide you through the process and procedures of divorce, making it as clear and manageable as possible, from how to apply for a divorce to finding the best divorce lawyer to support you.
In this guide we’ll break down:
Who can get divorced?
In England and Wales, you can get divorced if:
You have been married for at least a year
Your marriage is legally recognised in the UK
Your marriage has permanently broken down
Reasons for divorce
In April 2022, new no-fault divorce laws (Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020) came into effect which means a couple can legally separate without providing any reasons (grounds for divorce).
Previously, this wasn’t the case and a couple had to prove that their marriage had irretrievably broken down with 1 of 5 facts which were:
Grounds For Divorce
Having sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.
Any behaviour which makes living with your spouse unbearable, like drunkenness, taking drugs, or abuse.
Separation for 2 years with consent
You and your partner had spent more than two years living separately and both agree to the divorce.
Separation for 5 years total
You and your partner have lived apart for over 5 years.
If your spouse has left you without your agreement and without good reason, or to bring an end to the relationship.
Due to the reforms and introduction of no-fault divorce, couples only have to say that their marriage has ended permanently and can’t be fixed. They do not have to provide any of the reasons listed above.
Can you separate without getting a divorce?
Some couples might choose to separate but stay married. There are a number of reasons for this like finance, tax and insurance benefits, or that the cost of divorce is simply too high at the time. Alternatively, many couples thinking about divorce might use alternatives to give themselves some breathing space and time to think away from their partner.
If this is a consideration for you, there are alternatives to divorce you could explore such as:
Legal separation is a formal arrangement where a couple stays married or in a civil partnership but lives separately.
You might consider a legal separation if:
You don’t want to divorce because of religious reasons;
You can’t get divorced as you haven’t been married or in a civil partnership for long enough (1 year);
You need to step away and give further thought as to if you want to divorce or end the civil partnership;
To get a legal separation, you need to send either a joint or sole application to the court and make make a separation agreement with your spouse that covers things like child arrangements, maintenance, what to do with your home, and how you will divide your money and other assets.
Annulment is another alternative way of ending a marriage.
You can apply for an annulment (nullity) in the first year of your marriage and beyond. The rules on annulment, however, differ from divorce. Instead of citing the irretrievable breakdown of your relationship, you’ll need to prove that your marriage:
To apply for an annulment you have to fill in and send a nullity application form. After you do this, the court will send you a notice that your application has been issued.
Of course, there may be reasons why a legal separation or annulment aren’t suitable and divorce is the best option. Before you make a decision on how you might legally formalise your separation, it is advisable to get advice from a divorce solicitor who will advise on your specific situation.
How much does a divorce cost?
The average cost of a divorce in the UK currently stands at £14,561 in legal fees and lifestyle costs.
As an absolute minimum, the cost of a divorce is £593. This is the court fee (correct as of September 2023) you must pay when you send a divorce application. However, it is very, very rare that this will be the only cost you incur when getting divorced.
Instead, there are a number of other direct and indirect costs to consider in getting a divorce, like:
Some of the fees listed above might not be required should your divorce be straightforward and uncontested, which is why it is very difficult to give a ballpoint figure of how much a divorce costs.
How much does a divorce solicitor cost?
A divorce solicitor can cost between £500-£1000 depending on how the divorce progresses and how a solicitor charges for their services (i.e. fixed fee or hourly rate). On average, the hourly rate for a divorce solicitor can range from £180-£280 per hour.
The divorce process
If you’ve decided to start divorce proceedings, there’s a procedure you must go through. Let’s break it down:
Step 1: Get organised
To apply for a divorce, you’ll need to provide information as part of your application to the court. Before you do that, you should get all of this information together first to prevent any unnecessary delays.
You will need:
Your full name and address
Your spouse’s full name and address
Your spouse’s current address and/or email address
Your original marriage certificate or a certified copy
Your change of name deed if you’ve changed your name since getting married
Step 2: Find a divorce lawyer
You don’t have to instruct a solicitor for divorce proceedings, but getting advice before starting the process is the best way to understand your options and ensure you make the best decisions for you. Enlisting the help of a divorce lawyer can also save you time, as they can apply on your behalf and ensure you get it right first time.
There are lots of ways you can go about finding the best solicitor for you. A good starting point is to search online and get a range of quotes that are specific to your case. There are also a number of review sites like Trustpilot that will let you see feedback from past clients and help you decide if they are right for you. Alternatively, you could ask family and friends for recommendations.
If you are ever unsure about the credentials of a solicitor, you can check their SRA record online to see if they have had any decisions made against them.
Ultimately, the best divorce solicitors are empathetic, responsive, transparent, and communicative. They let you know where you stand, explain complex legal processes in plain English and act with your best intentions at heart.
If you’d like to use a divorce solicitor, you can get a fixed-fee quote from our expert divorce lawyers in as little as 5 minutes. Simply tell us about your case to get started.
Step 3: Decide on a joint or sole application
When you apply for a divorce, you can either make a joint application with your spouse or a sole application. This hasn’t always been the case, but is a new addition to the process following the introduction of no fault divorces in April 2022.
Joint Divorce Applications
You can make a joint divorce application if you both agree to the divorce and there is no risk of domestic abuse.
If you make a joint application, you and your spouse will be referred to as 'Applicant 1' and 'Applicant 2' respectively, and you are both equally responsible for the application.
Sole Divorce Applications
You can make a sole application if your spouse does not agree on getting divorce OR you don’t think your spouse will cooperate with the process.
If you make a sole application then you are the applicant and your spouse is the respondent.
Step 4: Apply & pay the court fee
You can apply for a divorce online or by post. A solicitor can also apply on your behalf through an online portal called MyHMCTS.
If you don’t feel confident using the internet, or you don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, you can also use the Digital Support helpline.
For a divorce or dissolution (ending a civil partnership) you will have to confirm:
The type of application your making (i.e. divorce or dissolution)
Whether you’re applying on your own or with your spouse
What documents you are supplying to support your application
Your name, address, phone number and email address
If you want to keep your contact details confidential from your spouse or civil partner
Your solicitor’s details (name, reference number, firm, address and contact details) if you have one
Name, address, phone number and email address of your spouse
Your spouse’s solicitor’s details, if they have one
Details of your marriage or civil partnership (such as the date and whether it took place outside the UK)
Statement of irretrievable breakdown
Whether you want to apply for a financial order
That you believe that the information you give in the application is true, as does the applicant (statement of truth)
Payment of the court fee is to be made to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and can be done over the phone, online or via a cheque.
Step 5: Wait for the courts to issue an application or acknowledgement of service
What happens after you apply depends on how you applied for the divorce.
If you made a joint application and you both agree to the divorce, then you and your spouse will get a notice that your application has been issued and a case number. You then must wait 20 weeks before applying for a conditional order.
If you made a sole application, you’ll also receive a notice that your application has been issued. Your spouse will also receive an ‘acknowledgement of service’ notification which they must respond to within 14 days saying whether they agree with the divorce or they want to dispute it.
If they agree, you can apply for a conditional order after 20 weeks (or a decree nisi if the court issued your divorce application before 6th April 2022.)
If they dispute it, your spouse has to complete an ‘answer form’ where they provide a genuine legal reason why they disagree with the divorce and you may have to go to court. If they don’t do this, you can continue by applying for a conditional order.
Step 6: Apply for a conditional order or decree nisi
A conditional order and decree nisi are legal documents that confirm the court have approved your divorce.
You only need to apply for a decree nisi (either online or by post) if the court issued your divorce application before 6th April 2022. If you made your application before this date, you would have had to give a reason for the divorce. When applying for a decree nisi, you’ll need to fill in a statement that confirms what you said in your application was true, along with a copy of your spouse’s response to the application.
Any applications made after this date require you to fill in an application for a conditional order 20 weeks after your divorce application has been issued.
Step 7: Apply to finalise the divorce
After you’ve made either an application for a conditional order or decree nisi, you’ll need to wait for the court to review it. You’ll both then receive a certificate with the time and date you’ll be granted a conditional order or decree nisi, if the judge agrees.
At this point in the process, you will still be legally married. You’ll have to wait another 43 days at least to apply for either a final order or a decree absolute (if the court issued your divorce application before 6th April 2022.)
After you (or your solicitor) has done this the court will review the application and send the final order or decree absolute either to you or your solicitor. Once you have the final order or decree absolute you are legally divorced. It is important to keep this document safe as you will need it if you want to remarry in the future or need to prove your marital status.
How to respond to an application for divorce
If your spouse has made a sole application for divorce, you are the respondent and will receive an acknowledgement of service which you should return to the court within 14 days of receiving it.
The acknowledgement of service is your chance to say whether you agree with the divorce going ahead or if you want to dispute it.
Back when it was a requirement for an applicant to give a reason for a divorce, a respondent could disagree with it. This was known as a contested divorce.
Following reforms, you now can’t contest a divorce on the grounds that you don’t want to get divorced. You can only dispute a divorce for one of three reasons:
The court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the case
The marriage is not valid
The marriage has already legally ended
There is a fee for disputing a divorce in this way, which is payable to the court.
Can a joint application be changed to a sole application?
Yes. If you and your spouse originally made a joint application for divorce, but they don't complete the conditional or final order application within 14 days, you can switch to a sole application.
Religious divorce vs Legal divorce
The only way to legally end a marriage in England & Wales is through the courts. However, if you were married under religious laws, it’s likely you will need to consider a religious divorce too.
How you do this depends on your religion. For example, in Judaism divorce is only finalised when a husband gives his wife a legal document that validates it. This is called a Get.
Alternatively, in Muslim divorce proceedings the husband must pronounce Talaq or the wife can initiate Khula, Faskh or Tafreeq.
For couples to whom religion is important, it’s vital to understand the key differences between legal and religious divorce and the processes involved in both, as well as the consequences of not getting both legally and religiously divorced.
Getting an international divorce
Divorce law isn’t universal. Different countries have different rules and you must take this into account if you are thinking about getting divorced abroad.
That being said, you don’t have to get divorced in the country you were married in. If the country you are living in recognises your marriage in their laws, you can get divorced in that country. On the flip side, if you want to end a marriage or civil partnership that is not legally recognised in the country you are living in, you won’t be able to get a divorce there.
Further to this, a divorce in another country may not be recognised in England and Wales.
If it sounds complex, it is. Overseas divorces are very rarely straightforward and getting it wrong runs the risk of committing bigamy if you were to get married again in the future. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you seek legal advice from a solicitor before getting an international divorce to make sure you don’t fall foul of the rules both in England and Wales and abroad.
What happens to finances in a divorce?
Finances are often a tricky subject, particularly in the course of divorce. While it might be difficult to have these kinds of conversations with your spouse, it’s very important for both of you to reach an agreement around finances that protects your assets and secures your future.
In a perfect world, separating partners would easily be able to agree on how they’re going to split assets like pensions, property, savings and investments. And if you can, great! All you need to do in that case is apply for a consent order or clean break order to make it legally binding.
Sometimes, however, agreeing on finances during divorce isn’t as straightforward. And if you can’t agree on a fair divorce financial settlement you can let the court step in and decide how your assets should be split. You can do this by applying for a financial order, but before you can you must attend a MIAM (unless exempt).
For both types of order, it’s usually advisable to apply after you have your conditional order or decree nisi and before you get your final order or decree absolute.
How long does a divorce take?
A divorce or dissolution takes a minimum of 6 months to complete, even longer if you can’t agree on things like money, child arrangements, or property.
As we have noted in the step by step guide, there are mandatory waiting periods before you can apply for a conditional order and final order which together total 6 months. You should also account for the time it might take to fill in forms, seek legal advice from a divorce lawyer, wait for respondents to reply, as well as court processing times or delays due to one party challenging a proposed divorce settlement.
Who should start divorce proceedings?
Either you or your spouse can start divorce proceedings as sole applicants, or you can make a joint application together. There are no ‘rules’ around who should be the applicant and who should be the respondent.
There isn’t a legal requirement for couples to have any kind of counselling, or even undergo mediation when getting a divorce unless an agreement can’t be reached around finances or child arrangements.
If these matters go to court, both spouses must attend a MIAM which is essentially an introduction to family mediation and if/how it might help divorcing couples reach an agreement without going to court. It is however at the discretion of both parties as to whether they move forward with mediation or not, neither of you can be forced to do it.
Do I need a solicitor to get divorced?
No. You do not need to use a solicitor to get divorced. You can do the whole process yourself. However, it may be advisable to do so, especially if you need a financial consent order or you need extra help filling in forms correctly.
Do I have to go to court to get divorced?
If both parties agree to the divorce and financial arrangements, there’s no need to go to court. However, if a spouse disagrees with the child arrangements or financial terms of a divorce, it might be necessary to go to court.
What happens if my spouse disagrees with the divorce?
The introduction of no-fault divorce means providing you follow the divorce process correctly, the divorce will go ahead even if your spouse disagrees. There are only certain reasons a spouse can disagree with the divorce and none of them mean you have to stay married.
Do we have to agree on child arrangements before a divorce is approved?
No, you can get a divorce before agreeing on child arrangements.
That being said, it is better to agree on financial arrangements and child arrangements prior to getting a divorce.
Get help from fixed-fee divorce solicitors
If you're starting, or considering starting, divorce proceedings, our divorce solicitors will help you through the process of legally ending your marriage. Similarly, if your spouse has issued divorce proceedings against you, our divorce specialists are on hand to help you respond.
Your divorce solicitor will work with you to prepare the necessary documents and start proceedings, as well as help you with related arrangements such as financial and child arrangements.
To get started, tell us about your case and we will provide you with a fixed-fee quote tailored for your needs and match you with the best divorce lawyer for your situation.