There are several papers you need to start a divorce:
The Divorce Petition
The main document necessary to start a divorce is the divorce “petition”, the application. There is a combined form for divorce and civil partnership dissolution. This makes it a bit confusing about ticking the right boxes in some places. There are also notes for guidance on this link.
You must read the instructions and the form very carefully so as to complete it correctly, for example in part 1 you need to write the names as they are now, while in part 2 they need to be copied from the marriage (or civil partnership) certificate, even if they were spelled wrongly or a middle name was missed out by accident, for example.
- Page 1 should be self-explanatory.
- Part 1 must state all details. If you do not have the other’s address, you should seek legal advice about what to do about that. Often a bit of internet research will track someone down and you can then at least contact your spouse (or a member of their family) via social media or email. If they also want to get divorced and you can explain to them that you need their address for the court form, in most cases they will let you have it.
- In Part 2 you must copy the details from the marriage or civil partnership certificate exactly as they are there. If, for example, you wrote “registry office” instead of “register office”, your divorce could be rejected.
- Part 3 deals with jurisdiction for divorce or same-sex civil partnership dissolution for gay and lesbian couples. Tick one box in the first line and insert the address where you last lived together. If you are married and you rely on one of the grounds for jurisdiction in the EU Brussels II Regulation, tick the first box after the address; if you are civil partners and you rely on the equivalent ground, tick the second box. If you are both habitually resident in England and Wales you can tick the box for that line; otherwise, you will need to copy the ground for jurisdiction into the next text box from the guidance notes. Only if none of those apply, and they would also not apply in any other EU country (except Denmark), can you rely on any of the grounds below the box, namely that one of you is domiciled in England and Wales; or, for civil partnership and same-sex marriage only, that you registered/married here. The English Family Court would deal with the divorce or dissolution then if, for example, you cannot dissolve your relationship elsewhere. Domicile is a complicated legal concept and is not the same as where you live. You must seek legal advice from a specialist in international English family law if you are relying on domicile. If your case has any international dimension, for example, if one (or both) of you lives outside England and Wales (even in Scotland or Ireland), is not British or there is property abroad or you have in the past lived abroad, you should definitely contact a specialist in international family law to advise you on your particular case. If you do not do that, you could find yourself heavily disadvantaged later on. In that case, please contact us to arrange an appointment (see below).
- Part 4 deals with previous court proceedings. Be careful that you tick the right boxes here. It is best to read the text with the boxes ticked to check you have done it right. If you rely on five years’ separation you also need to complete the second part.
- In Part 5 tick whether you apply for divorce, civil partnership dissolution or separation and then tick the right box for the fact you rely on.
- Part 6 has a box for the details of the fact you rely on. You do not need to write much here, just enough to satisfy the fact. The box is deliberately kept to a limited size. There is absolutely no point in writing anything about any behaviour (if that is your fact) which took place more than six months ago (or six months before the separation if you are separated) unless it is continuing. Of course the behaviour can be from after the separation, so if you have separated and you are now both seeing someone else, you cannot rely on your own sexual relationship with someone else, but you can write something like:
“The respondent has had sexual relationships with other people and the petitioner does not feel that he/she can continue to live with the respondent.”
- You do not have to fill the box! The same applies to adultery (check the definition here – you cannot use adultery for civil partnership dissolution!):
“The Respondent has committed adultery with another man/woman [who the petitioner knows but wishes not to mention/unknown to the Petitioner] and this is continuing/on or around [date].”
- If you rely on separation, you need to write something like:
“The petitioner realised that the relationship had run its course on or around [date] and moved out of the joint home on [date] [and for two years’ separation and consent] and the Respondent consents to the divorce.”
- Part 7: List details of your children and tick column (a) if both of you are the parents and column (b) for any other “child of the family”, usually children of one of you who have been living with you as a family all or part of the time (step-children for example).
- Part 8 deals with any special assistance you need at court, e.g. interpretation or disabled parking.
- Part 9 is for the addresses which the court will put on its system to send the court documents out. If you later move, you must tell the court. Make sure the addresses are complete.
- Part 10 section 1: You will need to read this carefully to ensure you tick the right boxes.
- Part 10 section 2 only applies if you have a solicitor, because if not you do not have costs (only the court fee). This only relates to the costs of the divorce itself, not of any other issues, such as a financial claim. In most cases the court will order the other party to pay costs if the divorce relies on adultery, behaviour or desertion, but not if it relies on two or five years’ separation.
- Part 10 section 3: Here there is a request for all of the financial claims which are available. It is standard practice to tick those which apply and it does not necessarily mean that you want to pursue these claims. It means that if you agree on a financial settlement (or that you do not want to make claims against each other and want the court to dismiss them) the court has power to do so. It also means that you can make the application later even if you have re-married or registered a new civil partnership (although you would not then be able to claim for maintenance for yourself). The court will only deal with financial claims if either party starts separate financial proceedings, which are tagged on (ancillary) to the divorce.
You will need your marriage certificate to start a divorce. If you do not have it any more, you can get a copy from the Register Office where you married or from the General Register Office. You can do this online once you have registered or over the telephone. There is a separate fee for an expedited service. You can ask the General Register Office to send the new marriage certificate directly to your solicitor if you have one.
The Family Court will keep the marriage certificate. If you think you may need it later, you should get another one.
You cannot send a photocopy to the court. They need the original, although in some urgent cases you can deliver this later. You should talk to your solicitor if you have difficulties getting hold of your marriage certificate.
If you married abroad and the marriage certificate is in a foreign language, you will need to get a certified translation. This can be expensive.
In some countries you can get a multi-lingual marriage certificate from the place where you registered. This looks a little bit like an EU Passport, often with numbered boxes and the description for each number on the back of the page in many languages. There is an example here.
Statement in Support
Once your spouse has returned the completed acknowledgement of service form to the court and you have a copy, you need to complete the statement in support to apply for the decree nisi (or the conditional order in a civil partnership dissolution). The statement in support is a court form you will have to fill in. You have to be very careful to answer the questions correctly or your divorce or same-sex civil partnership dissolution may get rejected because there is a legal rule behind each of the questions. Here the help and advice of a solicitor can be very useful. You have to use a different form depending on which fact your divorce or civil partnership dissolution relies on:
- two years’ desertion,
- two years’ separation and consent or
- five years’ separation.
If your spouse has signed the acknowledgement of service form (rather than a solicitor only on their behalf), you need to attach a copy of the completed acknowledgement of service form and complete the bits about recognising their signature too.
There is a statement of truth at the end, so everything must be absolutely correct. If it later turned out that you did not tell the truth, you could be fined or imprisoned for it.
You then send the form to the court together with your application for a decree nisi or conditional order (another court form). There is no fee.