The divorce process might seem complicated, but it's relatively straightforward. This guide explains the steps you will need to follow, if you are thinking about getting a divorce.

In England and Wales a divorce is a paper-based transaction, which can take approximately six months, if undefended, and won't involve a court attendance if the divorce petition is non-contentious.

If you are the applicant, you will be the one filing for divorce. If someone is filing for a divorce against you, you are the respondent.

Before you file for a divorce, you must be able to prove to the Court that your marriage has broken down and that it cannot be saved. There are five reasons on which a divorce can be granted:

  • Adultery and intolerability;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion of the applicant by the respondent for a period of at least two years;
  • Separation of the parties for at least two years where the respondent to the divorce proceedings consents to the pronouncement of a Decree Nisi;
  • Five years' separation where the respondent's consent it not required.

The divorce process begins when the applicant files a petition for divorce at Court. The applicant's solicitor will prepare the petition based on one or more or the reasons above. To file the petition at Court, they need an original marriage certificate and a Statement of Reconciliation. The Statement of Reconciliation confirms whether saving the marriage has been discussed. The current fee (as of 1 May 2017) payable on issue is £550, although there is potential for a remission of all, or part, of the fee - subject to stringent evidence of lower means.

On receipt of the paperwork, the court processes the petition and posts it, accompanied by an Acknowledgement of Service form and guidance note, to the respondent. This form is a simple question and answer document enabling the respondent to:

  • confirm his or her identity;
  • indicate if the divorce suit is to be accepted or defended; and
  • state his or her position on the claim for costs if there is one.

The respondent then returns the form to the Court, who also send a copy to the applicant.

The applicant then applies for the first decree, the Decree Nisi, by completion of a standard form and statement in support, which again is sent to the Court.

A district judge then reviews the application and, if satisfied, certifies that the applicant is entitled to a decree and clarifies their costs. The Court’s administration then fixes a date upon which that decree is to be pronounced and outlines any costs order made by the judge in open court. Both parties are notified of these details, but their attendance is not required unless there are any contentious issues.

In order to bring the marriage to an official end, six weeks and one day later, the applicant should apply for the Decree Absolute on a standard form, which, again, is processed and checked carefully by the Court administration, who then notifies both parties that the divorce is complete.

Divorce legal terms glossary
Applicant (also known as the Petitioner)

The person applying for the court order.

Decree Absolute

The final order of the court, which terminates the marriage.

Decree Nisi

The interim decree, or order of divorce, indicating that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.


The person who receives the divorce petition or matrimonial order application, or some other application to court, such as financial proceedings.

For further information

To find out more about how Anthony Collins Solicitors can support you through a divorce or marriage and relationship issues, please contact Elizabeth Wyatt. We've also produced a helpful step-by-step diagram showing the divorce process.