The legal process is separate from the emotional impact of divorce and separation. Each case is different and the length and cost of your divorce will depend upon many factors. However, having an idea of what to expect and how the legal process works may help you to deal with any issues more effectively and avoid the pitfalls that many couples fall into.

Please note that any reference to the law in the following pages applies in England and Wales only although the general advice may still be relevant. For information on the law in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland see the links to the right of this article.

There are three main stages to the legal process of divorce:

The Petition: The partner who initiates the divorce process is know as the Petitioner, the person who receives the Petition is known as the Respondent. You may petition for divorce if you have been married for at least twelve months and can prove that the marriage has broken down beyond repair for one of the following reasons:

  • Adultery by your spouse
  • Unreasonable behaviour by your spouse
  • Desertion by your spouse of more than two years
  • Separation of two years or more with both of you agreeing to the divorce
  • Separation of five years or more whether or not your spouse agrees

You can send a petition yourself by applying through the County Court or get a solicitor to send it for you. If you decide to send it yourself there are DIY kits and guides that can help (Amazon sell some good guides) but you should only consider this option if you think your divorce will be straight forward with both of you agreeing. If you receive a petition again consider whether you think you will need a solicitor - if in doubt it is probably best to seek legal advice; your solicitor can sort out the response and necessary forms for you.

Decree Nisi:The Decree Nisi will be granted by the court when the necessary documentation has been checked and the grounds for divorce have been established. You will probably not need to attend court for this. The date for the Decree Absolute can be set six weeks and one day from this point but this will depend on whether you have reached an agreement regarding the division of assets and arrangements for the children. The court will want to establish that any arrangements have been agreed or ordered by the court before the Decree Absolute can be granted.

Decree Absolute:The Decree Absolute is irreversible and means that the marriage has ended. You will probably not need to attend court for this. is in favour of a change in the law to facilitate a no blame divorce, this minimising the risk of disputes occuring at the start of the legal process and children being drawn into the conflict.

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Legal Links

Community Legal Service
Government Agency offering advice on a range of legal issues including family law

UK Court Service
Information and leaflets about the UK court system

Resolution (formerly Solicitor's Family Law Association)
Find a solicitor who is a member of resolution, encouraging amicable settlements for children

See our links page for further links and support