How to get a divorce or dissolution

If you and your spouse (husband or wife or civil partner) have been married or in a civil partnership for at least one year can agree on four main things, it is possible to get a divorce fairly simply and without huge cost in England and Wales. For a civil partnership the technical term is dissolution, but the rules are pretty much the same.
  1. That your marriage or civil partnership is over.
  2. The (legal) reason that it’s over.
  3. How you will divide your property and possessions.
  4. If you have children, how you will both continue to look after them in the best possible way.

England and Wales

Firstly, you must have been married or in a civil partnership for more than a year and live in England or Wales.

If you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for less than a year, you can still create a separation agreement to sort out your property and possessions in readiness for when the year is up. For more information, see Separating from your spouse or civil partner.

Next, agree on why your marriage or civil partnership is over. In English law marriage fails because it has 'irretrievably broken down' due to one of five reasons, a civil partnership fails because it has 'irretrievably broken down' due to one of four:

  1. Your spouse had sex with someone else in the last six months and you can’t live with them any more. This ground is not available for a civil partnership.
  2. Your spouse has behaved so badly towards you that you can’t live with them any more.
  3. You have been deserted by your spouse for at least two years in the last two and a half
  4. years. (This is probably more difficult to prove than the others).
  5. You have lived apart from each other for at least two years and you both agree to the divorce.
  6. You have lived apart for at least five years. After five years you don’t need the consent of your spouse.

Scotland

In Scotland you can bring your marriage or civil partnership to an end within the first year if things haven’t worked out.

Next, agree on why your marriage or civil partnership is over. In Scottish law a marriage fails because it has ‘irretrievably broken down’ due to one of four grounds or because an interim gender recognition certificate has been obtained by one party. A civil partnership fails because it has ‘irretrievably broken down’ due to one of three grounds or because an interim gender recognition certificate has been obtained by one party. The grounds are as follows:

  1. Your spouse had sex with someone else and you can’t live with them any more. This ground is not available for a civil partnership.
  2. Your spouse has behaved so badly towards you that you can’t live with them any more.
  3. You have lived apart from each other for at least one years and you both agree to the divorce.
  4. You have lived apart from each other for at least two years and one of you doesn’t agree to the divorce.

England and Wales

The first proper step towards divorce is to complete a divorce or dissolution petition. Once you have completed the petition take three copies of it, one for you, one for your spouse and one for the court. If you want to divorce your spouse, but do not know where they are, the court can end the marriage without sending them the divorce petition.

Take the copies with your original marriage or civil partnership certificate and the court fee and either attend at the court office in person or send the documents to the court office in your local county court to have your petition issued.

If you have children you'll have to decide who looks after them. You may be able to make arrangements between yourselves about where the children will live and contact with the other parent, however, if you cannot decide, the court can make those decisions for you. A court will only make an order concerning children if it feels it is in the best interests of the children to do so. This is called a child arrangements order and you can read more about their applicability here

Your spouse receives the petition and has eight days to follow the guidelines and return the petition to the court. You then receive a copy of your spouse's reply or ‘acknowledgement of service’ and you can fill in the application for a decree nisi for a divorce or conditional order for a civil partnership (the order means that the court agrees that they can see no reason why you shouldn’t get a divorce or dissolution).

Once you have your decree nisi or conditional order you can apply for the decree absolute (for a divorce) or final order (for a civil partnership) six weeks and one day later. At that point you will receive either a decree absolute and you will be divorced or a final order and your civil partnership has ended. You are legally married or still in a civil partnership until you receive the decree absolute or final order and must not marry or form another civil partnership again until after that time.

Scotland

In Scotland divorces can be obtained through one of two ways:

  1. The DIY process - this is a simplified procedure available to couples that are in agreement about bringing their marriage to an end and can agree on how to deal with assets and finances. This process is only available where no children under the age of 16 are involved.

  2. The Ordinary process - this process involves the courts and should be used where a couple is not in agreement about bringing their marriage to an end, cannot agree on how to deal with assets and finances. This process must be used where children under the age of 16 are involved.

The DIY Process

The first step in applying for a DIY divorce involves applying to the Sheriff Court using the appropriate form and paying the relevant fee.

Which form you will need to use depends on whether you are ending a marriage or a civil partnership and on which grounds. The forms can be downloaded from the Scottish Court and Tribunal Service website.

The current fee for applying for a DIY divorce is £123 in the Sheriff Court.

The Ordinary Process

The first step in applying for an ordinary divorce involves serving an Initial Writ (also known as a ‘summons’). The Initial Writ includes the names and addresses of the parties involved in the divorce and the grounds for divorce. It also provides brief details on the relationship including, the date of marriage, the date of separation and the birth dates of any children under the age of 16. It will also provide brief details regarding care arrangements for the children.

The Initial Writ will be drafted and signed by your solicitor (acting as your agent) and then sent to the court to ask for the court’s authority (also known as a ‘warrant’) to serve the Initial Writ on the other party.

When serving this document you will have to pay the relevant court fee. The current fee for applying for an ordinary divorce is £153 in the Sheriff Court.