Getting Divorced in the UK: Overview + Step-By-Step Guide

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Unfortunately, marriages sometimes don’t work out, and the only remaining solution is divorce. If you find yourself contemplating divorce or are going through the process, our guide addresses the essentials of how to get a divorce, including the requirements for granting a divorce and how long a divorce takes.

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Who Can Get a Divorce in the UK?

Divorce signifies the end of a marriage or marital union—a permanent legal separation. After the divorce has been finalised, a couple is legally single and free to remarry. But can anyone get a divorce in the UK, and are there eligibility requirements for a divorce?

The divorce process in the UK can take place if the permanent home of at least one of the spouses is in the UK and the marriage is legally recognised (including same-sex marriages). The couple must also be married for more than one year and prove irreconcilable differences in the relationship—typically caused by unfaithfulness or underlying commitment issues.

If a couple meets the aforementioned conditions, they can file for a divorce. But the process is different if someone wants to end a civil partnership.

DID YOU KNOW? The same divorce laws have been in effect in the UK since 1973, but getting a divorce has been possible since 1857. Before then, only upper-class men could get an annulment, and the church held the sole right to dissolve marriages.

When Can You Get a Divorce in the UK?

As previously noted, you need to be married for at least one year to be granted a divorce in the UK and have a valid reason for the divorce.

On the other hand, an annulment can be conducted any time after the wedding. Even though this is also a legal procedure, the annulment proclaims the marriage invalid if it can be proven that the marriage is defective or was never valid.

The UK divorce process is significantly more complicated and lengthier than the annulment process, but it doesn’t question the validity of the marriage. A divorce is merely a legal dissolution of a marital union.

Acceptable Grounds for Divorce

If you apply for a divorce, you must establish one of five acceptable ‘facts’ or grounds for divorce.

  • Adultery: Adultery means that a married spouse had sexual intercourse with another person—considered cheating, even if they claim they still love you. But if you’re married and living as a couple for more than six months after discovering the transgression, you cannot list adultery as the reason for the divorce.
  • Unreasonable behaviour: When thinking about how to get a divorce, UK residents often consider listing unreasonable behaviour as a reason. It’s essential to understand that this description includes several patterns of behaviour that prevent you from living with your spouse, including:
    • Physical violence
    • Verbal abuse
    • Alcohol or drug abuse
    • Refusal to pay for living expenses
  • Desertion: Desertion means that your spouse has abandoned you at least two years before the divorce application.
  • Two-year separation: If you and your partner have been separated for two years, you can apply for divorce. Both of you must agree to the divorce in writing.
  • Five-year separation without agreement: You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated from your partner for five years, even if they don’t agree to the divorce.

So the question of how to get divorced includes acceptable reasons for filing for divorce or grounds for divorce.

DID YOU KNOW? Statistics on divorce rates in the UK show that 42% of all marriages in England and Wales end in divorce, with unreasonable behaviour as the most common cause for divorce.

Key Takeaways

You must be married for at least one year before filing for divorce in the UK.
There are five acceptable grounds for divorce: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion and two-year and five-year separation.
The first step of the divorce process is filing the divorce petition; the last is receiving the decree absolute.
A divorce takes between three and 12 months, but certain matters can speed up the process.

How to Get a Divorce in the UK

If you’ve decided to file for divorce, note the following five steps to conclude the divorce process speedily and effectively.

Find Grounds for Divorce

Before you file for divorce, you must find a valid ground. If you foresee a complicated divorce, it’s best to hire a divorce lawyer who will ensure everything is in order, even if the cost of the divorce rises significantly. If you’re unsure about what to list, you should seek an expert divorce service.

File Divorce Petition

The divorce petition is an application submitted to the court asking for permission to divorce. When getting a divorce in the UK, you must state the grounds for divorce. You also need to provide other information, including:

  • You and your spouse’s full name and address
  • A copy of the marriage certificate
  • The names and birthdates of children
  • Proof of adultery (if you have it)

If you’re the one filing the paperwork, you’ll be referred to as the ‘applicant’, while your partner is the ‘respondent’. The court is obliged to send a copy of the petition to the respondent, which they must respond to.

Acknowledgement of Service

Now that you know how to file for divorce, you need to know what to look for next. Once you’ve submitted the divorce petition, the court will review it. If everything is in proper order, you’ll receive an Acknowledgement of Service—a stamped copy of the application and a case number.

Apply for a Decree Nisi

The Latin word nisi (unless) refers to something being executed at a specified time, ‘unless’ previously adjusted. The decree nisi is issued if the respondent concurs with the divorce and doesn’t contest it. This decree states that there is no good reason not to divorce, and once the judge sets a ‘nisi pronouncement date’, you can move on to the final step of the divorce proceedings.

Apply for a Decree Absolute

The question of how to get divorced in the UK includes a decree absolute, which legally ends the marriage. You can apply for this six weeks after the decree nisi has been pronounced.

DID YOU KNOW? Facts on marriage reveal that marriage with someone you’ve had an affair with is unlikely to succeed—75% of such marriages end in divorce.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in the UK?

Each divorce is different; each one unfolds in its specific time frame. In the most straightforward cases—when both parties agree on the grounds for divorce and the financial and child arrangements—the divorce takes between four and six months, and the couple doesn’t need to appear in court. But if the two parties cannot agree on some aspect of the divorce, the process can last an entire year or more.

So how long does a divorce take for each step in the process? Consider the following rough timeline.

  1. Divorce Petition: 6–10 weeks
  2. Acknowledgement of Service: 2–4 weeks
  3. Application for Decree Nisi: 6–8 weeks
  4. Decree Nisi Pronouncement: 6 weeks + 1 day
  5. Application for Decree Absolute: 2 days

The processing time can also depend on the court where you’re applying for a divorce. Some courts are busier than others and take longer to review the petition and issue the decrees. But the wait of six weeks and one day between the pronouncement of the decree nisi and decree absolute is obligatory, regardless of the court.

How Quick Can You Get a Divorce?

Some speak about ‘quickie divorces’ that supposedly take only a few weeks to finalise. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in the UK. A so-called quick divorce extends between 20 and 24 weeks. Even if everything is in order and the two parties agree on everything, they cannot be divorced in less than three months.

But how to get a divorce in the UK most quickly and smoothly is attainable by following these simple tips:

  • Agree on the grounds of divorce
  • Promptly complete the paperwork and check it for mistakes
  • Agree on the financial and child arrangements
  • File the petition online

These recommendations can speed up the divorce process (without delays) by about 12 weeks.

DID YOU KNOW? A person contemplates divorce for two years before formally starting the process—indicating that getting divorced is a big decision for most applicants.

Conclusion

Knowing how to file for divorce in the UK is essential for those going through such a stressful time in their lives. The divorce process is long and complicated. Our guide, however, has listed the steps you need to take when applying and tips on how to speed up the process. If you understand these recommendations and measures before filing for divorce, the procedure should be less taxing and more straightforward.

FAQ

How do I start a divorce?

If you’re wondering how to get a divorce in UK courts, the first step is to choose a reason for the divorce and file a divorce petition with the court. Then the court will notify you about the progress and the following steps.

Can you get a divorce without going to court?

If both parties agree on the grounds for divorce and all other settlements, they don’t need to appear in front of a judge. Everything will be conducted either online or via post.

Can you get a quick divorce?

If you wish to know how to get a divorce quickly, you’ll be disappointed to learn that the divorce proceedings can be no shorter than three months. But if you want to ensure that it’s as smooth and quick as possible, there are specific steps you can take to speed up the process.

ABOUT AUTHOR

I've loved writing since I can remember, and back in high school, I started loving psychology as well. So I majored in it while dabbling in spirituality and yoga on the side.

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