Court Procedure

In addition to the application for divorce, the “petition”, there are other documents you or your solicitor need to prepare. None of these are of great significance for the divorce itself though.

The divorce is a two-stage process. The Family Court will first grant a conditional divorce order, a “decree nisi” and later make that order final, “decree absolute”. The court process starts when the Family Court gets the divorce petition and other documents and the fee of £550. It will then allocate a number to the case, open a file and send the papers to your spouse, unless your solicitor asked the court to return the papers to send them to your spouse or their solicitor direct

Sending the Papers to the Other Spouse

When your spouse receives the divorce papers, they have to fill in a form (the “acknowledgement of service form”) confirming that they have received the papers and whether or not they agree with the divorce and return it to the court. The court will send a copy to you or your solicitor. If your spouse does not return the form, it may eventually be necessary to arrange for another set of the documents to be served personally, unless you can prove in some other way that they have received the petition and accompanying documents from the court. This may for example be done by a “process server” (often a private detective) giving it to your spouse personally. There are special rules for service abroad. If your spouse lives abroad and is unlikely to complete the acknowledgement of service form voluntarily, you must get legal advice.

Conditional Divorce Order ("Decree Nisi")

If your spouse agrees to the divorce going ahead, you can then sign a statement in support, confirming that everything in the divorce petition is true, whether anything in the meantime has changed and so on. With that statement, you can apply for the conditional divorce order, the decree nisi. There is no fee at that stage.

The district judge will only then look at your divorce papers and if the judge agrees that you are entitled to a divorce, the court will set a date for the formal pronouncement of the decree nisi, which may be a week to a month or so after the district judge has approved your divorce. This is only the first divorce order and you remain married until the final order, the decree absolute. You do not need to go to court for the pronouncement

Decree Absolute

You can apply for the decree absolute six weeks after the date of the pronouncement of the decree nisi. For divorces, which were issued before 1 July 2013 there is a fee. For new cases this fee is included in the issue fee. The court should process that application within a week or so, but it often takes longer.

In all, the divorce can take as little as four to six months from start to finish. However, it can take a lot longer if either or both of you take time in taking particular steps during the proceedings, or if there are problems with the court.

There is no legal requirement to have a lawyer and either or both parties can represent themselves. However, the procedure is complicated and it is best to make informed decisions. It is not difficult to get something wrong, which may on the face of it look easy, but will lead to unforeseen circumstances later on in your particular case. It is also easy to get a document wrong, which will then mean a delay of probably several weeks.


12 May 2016 by Andrea Woelke