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There are two stages to the divorce process:

  1. A decree nisi, which is an interim decree of divorce; and
  2. The decree absolute, which finalises the process. (This means that the marriage is entirely at an end and either of you are free to re-marry if you wish).

To start a divorce, either you or your spouse need to complete a document, known as a petition and post or deliver it to your local county court together with payment of a court fee of £300. For details of your local court and to print off a petition, visit www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk. The petition must rely on one of the following five possible facts to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

  • Adultery with another person of the opposite sex.
  • Unreasonable behaviour.
  • Two years' desertion (when your partner leaves without explanation without your consent).
  • Living apart for two years and you both agree to the divorce.
  • Living apart for five years (in which case you do not both have to agree to the divorce).

The person who files the divorce petition is known as the Petitioner. The other spouse is known as the Respondent. It can help if you agree who is going to file the petition and which of the five facts is going to be relied on and what is going to be said especially about any unreasonable behaviour. There is no need to include more than just a few sentences and details of a couple of incidents. If you can agree in advance what will be said it may help avoid unnecessary argument and distress and also help you agree other issues more easily.

You may want to be the Petitioner for a variety of reasons, both personal and financial. As Petitioner you have more control over the progress of the divorce proceedings. It can be important for both parties to delay the decree absolute until the financial agreements have been finalised. For example, you may want to preserve your rights under your spouse's pension until what is to happen to those rights has been agreed.

You cannot file an application for divorce until at least one year after you married.

Apart from exceptional cases, who is the Petitioner and who is the Respondent and which of the five facts for divorce are relied on, makes no difference to the financial outcome or agreements for the children. If you are concerned about this, you may want to consult a solicitor – see Useful links.

Filing the divorce petition starts an exchange of papers which are sent out by the court to both you and your spouse for completion. The decree absolute is usually made between four and eight months after the petition has been filed.

Read more about managing the cost

Religious divorce
Religious divorce

In some instances a religious divorce must be granted before a divorce can be finalised.

Find out more about religious divorce
International aspects
International aspects

If you are either living abroad or your marriage took place abroad this could potentially complicate divorce proceedings.

Find out more about International aspects
Other options for married couples
Other options for married couples

Not all couples want to divorce and there are other options available for married couples.

Find out more about other options for married couples

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