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Divorce Fact Sheet

Tony Roe is a family law specialist.  He sets out below a brief outline of the current divorce process. It is intended as a guide only and each case is ultimately different.

Divorce – the legal process

An application for divorce cannot be made until you have been married for at least one year.

The person who starts the divorce is called the Petitioner and his/her spouse is called 'the Respondent'.  It will make no difference to any financial settlement whether you are the Petitioner or the Respondent.  Nor will how you have behaved make any difference to financial outcomes. 

There is only one ground for divorce in this jurisdiction and that is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.  

This breakdown must be proved to the court by citing one of five “facts”. Those facts are:-

  1. That the Respondent has committed *adultery and the Petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the Respondent. It is not necessary or advisable to name the third party.
  2. That the Respondent has *behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent.
  3. That the Respondent has *deserted the Petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce.
  4. That the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the start of the divorce and the Respondent consents to a decree being granted. In some circumstances, it is possible to rely on this fact even where you and your spouse have continued to live at the same property.
  5. That the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a period of at least five years immediately before the start of the divorce.

The Divorce Petition

The application form is called the Divorce Petition.

The Process

The petitioner lodges their Divorce Petition and original marriage certificate at court with a court fee of £550.

The paperwork will be issued and sent to the Respondent with an acknowledgement of service form.   The Respondent will be required to complete the form and return it to the court confirming, among other things, whether they intend to *defend the divorce. 

Once the Respondent has acknowledged the divorce, and confirmed no intention to defend, the Petitioner will be able to apply for the Decree Nisi.  This is the first of two divorce decrees.  

The Decree Absolute is the final decree of divorce.  The earliest date on which the Petitioner can apply for Decree Absolute is six weeks and one day after the date of the Decree Nisi.

The earliest date on which the Respondent can apply for Decree Absolute is four and a half months after the date of the Decree Nisi. 

It is usually advisable to delay the application for Decree Absolute until after a financial settlement has been reached.  


A divorce can take between 6 to 8 months from start to finish but this will always depend on the level of co-operation from your spouse, the prompt application for each stage of the divorce, the work load at the court and the complexities of the finances involved.

*N.B. The law surrounding divorce is currently under review and we are expecting a new Act of Parliament to be passed removing the fault based facts referred to above and removing the option to defend a divorce..

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