When a relationship breaks down, divorce or dissolution may be the only solution. We understand this is a major decision and we will provide full advice and support on the practical arrangements that will need to be made, both with your partner and any children involved.
There is only one ground for divorce in England and Wales – i.e. the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Either party to the marriage or Civil Partnership can present a petition for divorce/dissolution provided they have been married or in a Civil Partnership for at least one year and the requirements of domicile or habitual residence in England and Wales have been met.
You can download our simple outline of the progress of an undefended divorce through the Court here
To satisfy the court that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, there must be evidence of one or more of the following:
- Your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with him/her;
- Your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her (sometimes known as “unreasonable behaviour”);
- Either party has deserted the other for a continuous period of at least two years immediately proceeding the presentation of the divorce petition;
- You have lived apart from your spouse for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of petition and there is consent to a decree being granted;
- You have lived apart from your spouse for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
You cannot petition for a divorce based on your own adultery. These grounds are the same if you wish to dissolve a Civil Partnership except there is no provision to commence dissolution proceedings on the basis of your partner’s adultery. We strongly recommend you obtain your spouse’s agreement to a Petition being presented to the Court and the basis upon which it is to be filed. We will attempt to reach agreement over the form and wording of the Petition and there is often negotiation as to who is the appropriate person to issue the proceedings.
The Court will grant a divorce provided it is satisfied the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The drafting of a Divorce Petition is often dealt with on the basis that it reflects sufficient reason for the marriage to be dissolved whilst not raising issues that would cause unnecessary conflict.
You should be aware that it is possible for a Judge to refuse to accept that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. It is for this reason that the drafting of the Petition is important. Every Petition will contain a certain amount of basic information about who the parties are, where they live and what their respective occupations are. After receiving your divorce or dissolution petition the Court will send a copy to your spouse/partner, together with a document called an Acknowledgement of Service, which your spouse/partner should complete and return to the Court within 14 days.
Your spouse/partner has the opportunity on that form to indicate whether he/she intends to defend the proceedings. This is why we encourage you to agree the contents of the petition before it is filed at Court. Defended proceedings are rare and often very expensive.
After receiving the completed Acknowledgment of Service from the Court, you will need to complete and sign a Statement confirming the Petition is true, and requesting that the first stage of the divorce/dissolution (the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order) is pronounced. The District Judge will look through the papers and, if satisfied that everything is in order, will certify that the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order should be pronounced and will list a date.
The date is usually a few weeks after the application is lodged, and there is usually no need for anyone to attend Court unless there is an issue regarding costs. Once the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order has been pronounced, the Petitioner (the one who initiated the Petition) may apply for Decree Absolute/Final Order after waiting a further period of six weeks and one day.
The Decree Absolute/Final Order cannot be made until the District Judge has granted his certificate that he is satisfied with the arrangements for the children, and, as an entirely separate matter, it is advisable for the Decree Absolute to be withheld until such time as financial matters have been finalised.
If the Petitioner does not apply for the Decree Absolute then, three months after the date upon which the Petitioner could have applied, the Respondent may themselves make this application. Very rarely would you have to attend Court within divorce or dissolution proceedings.
Typically the process can take between 4-6 months. In some cases it might take longer, for example, if there are issues to be dealt with concerning children, finances and/or property. This is only an estimate and will very much depend on the circumstances of each case.