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How to Divorce/Dissolve a civil partnership

This information was last updated: 5 April 2016

In order to obtain a divorce you must have been married for at least 12 months and you must be able to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can rely on one of five facts to prove this:

  1. That your husband/wife/civil partner has behaved unreasonably and you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them (you should provide four or five recent examples of this);
  2. That your husband/wife* has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with them;
  3. That you have been separated from your husband/wife/civil partner for two years and your husband/wife/civil partner consents to the divorce;
  4. That you have been separated from your husband/wife/civil partner for five years; or
  5. That your husband/wife/civil partner has deserted you for a period of 2 years. *Adultery cannot be relied upon as a fact to dissolve a Civil Partnership.

The divorce procedure:

The divorce petition:

You will need to complete a number of forms in the proceedings. The first is an application form for a divorce, known as a divorce petition. You can access all of the forms you will require online or ask for a copy from your local County Court. There are guidance notes available to assist you in completing some of the forms. The party who files the petition is known as the petitioner and the person who is served with the petition is known as the respondent.

You must send the court:

  • Your fully and accurately completed divorce petition (and a copy to be served on the respondent)
  • Your original marriage certificate (if this is not in English you will need an authenticated translation)
  • A statement of reconciliation (confirming whether or not you have been referred to conciliation)
  • The court fee or a fee remission (which is currently £550, although if you are receiving benefits or on a low income you may be exempt from the court fees)

Acknowledgement of service:

The Court will process your petition and send a copy to your husband/wife/civil partner (using the address you have provided them). They will also send them a brief note setting out procedures and an acknowledgement of service form. This is a short form which your husband/wife/civil partner will need to complete to confirm they have received the petition and then they must return it to the Court within 7 days.  A copy of this acknowledgment will then be sent to you by the Court.

Application for decree nisi:

If your divorce is not going to be defended, which generally is the case, you can then apply for a decree nisi 7 days after service. This is the second stage of the divorce procedure and requires a separate form. You must also complete a statement in support of your application for decree nisi. There are different forms depending on which fact you are seeking to rely on. A district judge considers your petition and then your divorce will be listed for a pronouncement of decree nisi. It is unlikely that you will be required to attend this hearing and you will simply be sent the decree nisi certificate after the pronouncement.

Application for decree absolute:

This is the final stage in the divorce procedure. You can make an application for decree absolute after a minimum wait of 6 weeks from the date of decree nisi. The court will check time limits have been met and that there are no reasons not to grant the divorce. They will then send you both a decree absolute certificate. Once you receive the decree absolute, you are divorced and no longer married.


Some parents may find it difficult to reach an agreement in respect of arrangements for their children after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary to apply to the court for a child arrangements order (this has replaced contact and residence orders), however you must prove you have considered mediation beforehand, although there are some exemptions. These proceedings are completely separate to and independent of the divorce proceedings.


If you cannot agree the division of marital assets, you may wish to make a claim to the court so a judge can determine any financial issues. This is known as financial remedy proceedings. You should seek legal advice about this before your application for decree absolute. You can also see our how to guide to obtaining a financial remedy order upon divorce or dissolution of marriage or civil partnership.

How long does it take?

Obtaining a divorce takes approximately six to eight months where children and finances are not in dispute.

Can we help?

Legal Aid is no longer available for applications for divorce.  However, we are able to offer competitive rates and fixed fees.


If you would like to arrange a consultation please telephone 0208 885 7986


The information provided in this How To: is general advice and information and Wilsons Solicitors LLP accepts no liability for its applicability to the facts of your individual circumstances.

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