How to get a divorce or dissolution

If you and your spouse (husband or wife or civil partner) can agree on four main things, it is possible to get a divorce fairly simply and without huge cost. For a civil partnership the technical term is dissolution, but the rules are pretty much the same.

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Agree on four main things

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.

So what’s next?

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

years. (This is probably more difficult to prove than the others).

4. You have lived apart from each other for at least two years and you both agree to the divorce.

5. You have lived apart for at least five years. After five years you don’t need the consent of your spouse.

The procedure

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.

Ask a lawyer

Divorce from £99+VAT

Speak to a lawyer today.