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Understanding the divorce process in England and Wales

How to get a divorce in England and Wales?

Marriages break down for various reasons. Yet, no matter how confident you feel about the ones you may have to end your own, the prospect of having to deal with a pile of paperwork can easily discourage even the strongest-willed people.

Before you let the information overload overwhelm you, take a deep breath and keep on reading.

This article is here to provide you with a clear step-by-step guide to the divorce application process.


If you are married and living in England or Wales, it’s possible to get a divorce. However, you must meet the following criteria:

  • • Your marriage must have been legally recognised in the UK

  • • You’ve been married for over a year

  • • You are a UK resident

Additionally, you must prove that your marriage has broken down permanently and cannot be saved by referring to at least one or more of the following reasons, also known as ‘facts’:

  • • Adultery. If your partner has had sexual intercourse with someone else, you can file for divorce. Yet, you cannot use this as a reason if you have lived together for 6 months after you found out about it.

  • • Desertion. Your partner must have left you for at least 2 years before you apply.

  • • Unreasonable behaviour, such as:

    • - Physical violence

    • - Verbal abuse (insults or threats)

    • - Drunkenness or drug-taking

    • - Refusing to pay towards shared living expenses

  • • You’ve been separated for at least 2 years (and you have your partner’s written consent)

  • • You’ve been separated for at least 5 years (you don’t need your partner’s consent)

Fortunately, new legislation has been passed by the British Parliament in an attempt to simplify the divorce process and bring it into the twenty-first century. Although it won’t come into force until 6 April 2022, the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will certainly represent a key piece of reform, as it will eliminate the need to assign blame and thus reduce the chance of conflict arising between the involved parties.


If you meet the conditions mentioned above, you can apply for a divorce. You will require:

  • • Your husband or wife’s full name and address

  • • Your original marriage certificate or a certified copy (and a certified translation if it’s not in English)

  • • Proof of your name change if you’ve changed it since you got married

Once you’ve gathered the necessary documents/information, you can choose to apply:

  • • On line: in the following link.

  • • By post: you’ll need to download and fill in a divorce application form D8 (also known as ‘divorce petition’). You must then send 3 copies of the form to your nearest divorce centre, or 4 if you named someone your partner committed adultery with. They’ll send one copy to your husband or wife. Keep your own copy of the forms. You can download the form here.


Whether you decide to apply online or by post, you will be required to pay a £550 fee. You can choose to pay by:

  • • Credit or debit card if you apply online. You can also use this payment method if you apply by post, but you’ll require a call from the divorce centre to take payment.

  • • Cheque made payable to ‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service’.


Processing times depend on whether you applied online (it may take up to 10 days) or by post (it could take up to 1 month). Once your application has been checked, you’ll receive:

  • • A notice that your application has been issued (sent out)

  • • A copy of your application stamped by the divorce centre

  • • A case number

The court will then send your spouse the divorce application and an ‘acknowledgment of service’ form. Your husband or wife will have to respond to your request for divorce within 8 days. They can either a) agree b) intend to prevent the divorce/defend it c) object to paying the costs (if you’ve claimed them)

If your spouse has agreed to the divorce, you can apply for a decree nisi, a document which states that the court sees no reason why you cannot divorce and which you can obtain here.

In case your spouse wants to defend the divorce, they must send a completed ‘answer divorce’ form to explain why they disagree with it. They must do it within 28 days of receiving the divorce application. If they fail to do this, you'll be able to apply for a decree nisi anyway, but you may have to attend a court hearing to discuss the case.

If the judge agrees to your request, the court will send a certificate to both parties which states when the decree nisi will be granted. The decree nisi cannot be used as proof of your divorce, but as a step towards obtaining the decree absolute, which is what will actually end your marriage.

You’ll have to wait 43 days after the decree nisi to apply for the decree absolute. You will then be able to request it here. Once you get the decree absolute, you’ll be legally divorced and free to marry again.

Please note that you should keep your decree absolute in a safe place as you’ll need it to marry again or in order to prove your marital status.


Getting a divorce in England and Wales can be a complicated process when you are not completely familiar with the steps you need to follow. This article clarified some common doubts and guided you through the process. However, if you’d rather have someone else navigate the sea of paperwork for you, we recommend you contact a solicitor's office.

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