The Divorce Process


How do you start the divorce process?

Divorce is started by a document called a petition. Each petition for divorce follows a standard form.  It contains basic information about you, your spouse and any children and sets out the “fact” on which you intend to rely to obtain your divorce. The petition also includes a section, known as the “prayer”, which will include a request for the divorce to be granted and for an order for a financial settlement. It  may also include a request that your spouse pay or contribute towards the costs of the petition.

It is sensible to try to obtain your spouse’s agreement to the contents of the petition and to send them a draft in advance for consideration.  Brief particulars of the fact relied on do have to be included in the petition. Apart from in exceptional cases, the grounds of the divorce are not a relevant factor when consideration is given to the arrangements for the children and/or the finances. The grounds of the divorce are necessary satisfy the judge that you are entitled to a divorce.

What about the children?

A form known as a “statement of arrangements for the children” is sent to the court with the divorce petition which will outline the arrangements relating to the children. Couples are encouraged to try and agree those arrangements. This form is usually completed by the person filing the petition. It is good practice that the form is sent to the other spouse before it is submitted to the court so they can approve and sign it.  It is not however a requirement that the other spouse “the respondent”  signs this form.  They will be given an opportunity to comment on it and file their own statement if they wish to do so.  If agreement is not reached over the arrangements for the children, this does not prevent the divorce from proceeding.  

If agreement has been reached over the arrangements for the children, the judge is unlikely to interfere.   If there is an obvious dispute or problem, the judge may ask the both parties(rarely accompanied by their solicitors) to attend an appointment to explore a solution to the difficulties.

What happens next?

Once completed the petition and statement of arrangements for the children are sent to the court, together with the marriage certificate. A fee, currently  £340.00, is also payable to the court to issue the divorce.  Cheques for court fees should be made payable to “HMCS”.  For those on income support, or in receipt of public funding it is possible to claim an exemption in respect of court fees.

The court will issue the petition and send it to the other spouse, or their solicitors if they have agreed to receive this paperwork, together with a copy of any statement of  arrangements for the children and an acknowledgement form for the respondent to complete and return.

From the date the documents are received the Respondent has strict time limits to observe.

Within 8 days 

He or she should return to the court the acknowledgement form indicating whether or not they intend to defend the petition, whether any claim for costs is disputed and whether orders affecting the children are sought.

Within 29 days of receipt (longer if the documents have to be sent to an address abroad)

Whether or not an acknowledgement has been filed, the respondent must, if he or she intends to defend the petition, file a defence (called an “answer”). The petition then becomes defended and the procedure outlined below does not apply. Defended divorce proceedings resulting in a fully contested hearing are extremely rare.

The court will send to the petitioner, or their solicitor if one is acting for them, a copy of the respondent’s acknowledgement form.

If the respondent agrees to the divorce going ahead, the petitioner can then apply for the decree nisi to be pronounced.    The petitioner’s solicitor prepares an affidavit for the petitioner to swear confirming that the contents of the petition are true.  The affidavit will then be sent to the court with an application for the decree nisi.

A judge then looks through all the paperwork and if this is in order, issues a      certificate for the decree nisi to be pronounced which is sent out to the parties, or their solicitors if they are acting. Depending on the court’s diary, the date of pronouncement of the decree nisi is likely to be a few weeks after the certificate is issued.  It is not necessary to attend court for the pronouncement of the decree nisi.

6 weeks and 1 day after the date of decree nisi, the petitioner may apply for the final decree known as the  (“decree absolute”).  The decree absolute dissolves the marriage.  Application is made by sending the appropriate form to the court with the required court fee of £45.00.  

If the petitioner does not apply for the decree absolute the respondent can apply 3 months after the petitioner could first have applied.  If the respondent applies however and the petitioner opposes the granting of the decree absolute, it will involve a short hearing before the judge for the judge to decide if it should be pronounced at that point.

What happens if the Respondent does not return an acknowledgement form?

Proof that the Respondent has received the petition will have to be obtained before the Petitioner takes any further steps. This may involve arranging for someone to personally deliver the petition to the respondent or, obtaining a court order that service upon the respondent be deemed to have taken place if the petitioner has evidence that they have received the petition but ignored it.

How much does a divorce cost ?

Whether you deal with your own divorce or instruct a solicitor to deal with it for you, there are court fees to pay when the petition is issued, (currently £340.00) and for the decree absolute (currently £45.00).   There is also a fee to swear the affidavit for the decree nisi, if this is not done at the court office.  This fee is usually between £5.00 – £9.00 depending on the number of exhibits to the affidavit.

In addition if you employ a solicitor there will be his or her professional fees for dealing with the divorce.   Most solicitors charge an hourly rate and their fees will be based on how much time they spend on your file. This will include writing letters and emails, speaking on the  telephone, drafting and considering documents and time spent meeting with you.     A solicitor will provide a costs estimate at the beginning of the case to give you an idea of the costs involved.   The overall costs will very much depend on both parties attitude to the divorce and how quickly agreements can be reached.  Cooperation between you and your spouse will keep legal costs to a minimum.