Divorce

This page provides information on divorce including the grounds and reasons for divorce, how to make an application and information on the overall process.

What is divorce?

Divorce is legally ending your marriage. This means that you will no longer be legally joined to your partner.

There are alternatives to divorce and these include:

  • annulment
  • judicial separation

For more information please see our page on Alternatives to ending a marriage or civil partnership.

Changes in the law with no-fault divorce

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (‘DDSA 2020’) has made significant changes to the current process for divorce and dissolution.

Removal of the ‘five facts’

Under the DDSA 2020 there is still only one ground which you can rely on to get a divorce – that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. However, the requirement to prove this ground using one of five facts has been removed.

Under the old system the applicant had to satisfy one of the five facts which included adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years’ separation, desertion or five years’ separation. However the DDSA 2020 has replaced relying on one of five facts with a requirement to provide a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’, which the court must as conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and no evidence will be required for this beyond a statement.

Narrowed grounds for disputing an application for divorce

The new law has narrowed the grounds that a respondent can defend the application. Previously a person could defend the marriage where they disagreed with a fact being relied upon. However, a divorce can only be disputed on limited grounds including jurisdiction, validity, subsistence of the marriage, fraud or procedural non-compliance. The respondent to an application is not able to dispute whether the marriage has broken down.

Introduction of a joint application

The DDSA has provided the ability for couples to make their application for a divorce either jointly or as a sole applicant. Where the application is made jointly both parties will be the applicant and are referred to as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2.

Introduction of a minimum 20 Week Period for conditional order

The DDSA has provided of a minimum period of 20 weeks in divorce proceedings between the start of proceedings (when the court issues the application) and when the applicant(s) may apply for a conditional order; a document that confirms there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Update in legal terminology

Previous term Updated term
Petition/Petitioner Application/Applicant
Decree Nisi Conditional Order
Decree Absolute Final Order

What is needed to begin divorce?

To begin divorce proceedings you must have been married for one year prior to the application being filed. If you have not been married for one year, judicial separation may be more appropriate – see our page on Alternatives to ending a marriage or civil partnership.

There is only one ground which you can rely on to get a divorce – that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To show this ground the sole applicant, or joint applicants 1 & 2, must make a statement by ticking the box in Section 6 of the D8 form.

How do I apply for divorce

Sole application

To apply for a divorce, you need to complete the divorce application D8 form, this can either be through the digital service or on paper. The cost of the application is £593. If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for a fee exemption and can complete the EX160 form when making the application. You may also be able to apply for legal aid if there has been domestic abuse in your relationship – please see our information page on Legal aid for family matters.

All paper application forms must now be submitted to the following address:

HMCTS Divorce and Dissolution Service, PO Box 13226, Harlow, CM20 9UG

You will need to file a copy of your marriage certificate along with the application form.

Once you have completed the form, you will need to make at least three copies, and retain one for your records. You should send the following to court:

  • two copies of the application form;
  • your marriage certificate;
  • the fee (£593); and
  • the fee exemption form, if applicable.

The court will send the application to the respondent, unless you request to serve the application. The court will either serve the respondent either by post or email address and the respondent will complete an acknowledgement of service.

Joint application

The process for making a joint application for a divorce is exactly the same as a sole application with the following differences:

  • Joint applicants will agree how the £593 fee will be paid and the fee exemption form can be used only where both applicants are have little or no savings and either get certain benefits or have a low income; and
  • It is also possible to ‘switch’ the application from joint to sole at conditional and final order application stage only.

What is a conditional order?

A Conditional Order is a document that says the court does not see any reason why you cannot end the divorce and confirms the marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can apply for a Conditional Order using the D84 form.

You will need to wait 20 weeks and 1 day before you can make your application for a Conditional Order to confirm that you wish to continue with your divorce.

What is a final order?

A Final Order is the legal document that ends your marriage.

Once you have received your Conditional Order you have to wait 6 weeks and one day before you can apply for a Final Order. You will not be legally divorced until you have received a Final Order. 

To apply for your Final Order, you need to complete the D36 form which costs £45/£155. If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for a fee exemption and can complete the EX160 form when making the application.

Once the Final Order has been issued, you are legally divorced.

Ending Divorce under the Previous Law (Before 6th April 2022)

It is important to distinguish between the regimes of the fault-based system and no-fault divorce. Depending on when your application was received by the court will dictate the legal process that will be followed by the courts to proceed with your divorce. Your application will be dealt with under the previous fault-based regime where:

  • You made a paper application which was received by the court by no later than 4pm on the 31st March 2022;
  • You made a digital application which was submitted by no later than 4pm on the 31st March 2022; or
  • You made an urgent application that has been sent to the court by 4pm on the 5th April 2022.

If your application was issued under the previous regime then you will need to continue with your application under this regime and cannot convert to the no-fault based system.

The table below outlines the process that would need to be followed where your divorce application was issued under the previous regime:

The table below outlines the process that would need to be followed where your divorce application was issued under the previous regime:

The respondent (your spouse) will either agree to end the marriage or will defend the divorce

What happens if my partner agrees to end the marriage?
What happens if my partner does not agree to end the marriage?

The Respondent (your spouse) can agree to the divorce. They will need to complete and return an ‘Acknowledgment of Service’ (form D10), which they will receive from the court. Once the court has sent you a copy of your spouse’s Acknowledgment, you can apply for ‘Decree Nisi’, using form D84.

 

If the Respondent (your spouse) disagrees and wishes to defend the divorce application, the Respondent needs to state this in the Acknowledgement of Service (D10 form) within the eight days given. The Respondent then has 21 days to respond with why they are defending the divorce using the form D8B. The cost of this is £245. If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for a fee exemption and can complete the EX160 form when making the application. The Respondent can also file their own divorce petition. A court hearing will then be listed and you must attend this.

Application for a Decree Nisi

A Decree Nisi is an interim order of the court accepting the petition for divorce. If after sending the divorce petition, the Respondent (your spouse) does not defend the divorce, you can apply for a Decree Nisi using form D84. You will also need to complete a statement confirming your grounds for divorce:

  • ‘Adultery’ statement – form D80A
  • ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ statement – form D80B
  • ‘Desertion’ statement – form D80C
  • ‘2 Year Separation’ statement – form D80D
  • ‘5 year Separation’ statement – form D80E

You also need to send the Respondent’s response to the petition.

Once the court has received the Decree Nisi application, the Judge will then decide whether to grant the interim order. If the Judge agrees, you will receive your Decree Nisi. If the Court does not agree, you will receive a ‘Notice of Refusal of Judge’s Certificate;. This will explain why the Judge does not agree and will either invite you to provide more information in writing or to attend a court hearing.

Application for a Decree Absolute

A Decree Absolute is a final order which ends the marriage.

Once you have received your decree nisi you have to wait 6 weeks and one day before you can apply for a Decree Absolute. You will not be legally divorced until you have received a Decree Absolute. To apply for your Decree Absolute, you need to complete form D36 which costs £45.

If you are the Respondent in a divorce, you will need to wait 3 months and one day to apply for your Decree Absolute (final order). The fee for this application is currently £155. If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for a fee exemption and can complete the form EX160 when making the application. A court hearing will then be held.

Once the Decree Absolute has been issued, you are legally divorced.

This information is correct at the time of writing, 16th June 2022. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

On this page

This information is correct at the time of writing, 16th June 2022. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.