The divorce procedure

The procedure for obtaining a divorce in England and Wales is almost always a paper process. Neither you nor your spouse will need to attend court to explain why your marriage has broken down. The process can take as little as four to six months.


Financial consequences

The reason for the breakdown of the marriage rarely impacts on how the finances are divided (please see the Financial provision in divorce page for further details). The court will deal with the financial consequences of the end of the marriage separately from the process of obtaining the divorce itself.


Divorce proceedings in other countries

You may be entitled to begin divorce proceedings in more than one country. If that is the case, we can help you decide the best jurisdiction for you and your family. The divorce process varies widely from country to country (even within Europe) as to financial outcome, timing and arrangements for your children. Speed can be of the essence in making the decision.


Applying for a divorce

Either party to a marriage can apply to the court for a divorce. The divorce procedure is commenced by sending the court a divorce application known as a petition. The party making the application is known as the petitioner, and the receiving party is known as the respondent.


Five statutory facts of divorce

In the petition, the petitioner has to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by evidencing one of five specific statutory facts:

  • The respondent’s adultery (being proved by the admission of the respondent)
  • The respondent’s unreasonable behaviour
  • The respondent’s desertion for a period of two years (this is exceptionally rare and difficult to prove)
  • The separation of the parties for a period of two years or more, with agreement by both that there should be a divorce
  • The separation of the parties for a period of five years or more. (In this case, the consent of the respondent to the divorce is not needed)


The common grounds for divorce

The most common facts relied upon are adultery or unreasonable behaviour (unreasonable behaviour is a subjective test and the behaviour relied upon does not need to be extreme). In the vast majority of cases, the content of the petition is agreed before it is sent to the court.


Court process and timetable

An overview of the court process and timetable for the divorce can be seen by referring to the Procedure for obtaining a divorce flowchart.


The decree absolute

Usually, before applying for the final decree of divorce, (known as the Decree Absolute), the petitioner will wait until the finances have been agreed and approved by the court. If the divorce has taken place before the finances are resolved and one of the parties dies then, potentially, benefits to which the other would have been entitled to by virtue of the marriage will be lost (an obvious example is a spouse’s pension).

Meet the Divorce and Family team

Our team is the pre-eminent divorce and family practice in the UK, ranked No.1 in both The Legal 500 and Chambers.

In an article in The Times, head of department Stephen Foster is “praised for leading Stewarts’ phalanx of family lawyers to the top of the pack”.

Carly Kinch - Partner, Divorce and Family - Stewarts

If you require assistance, please contact us or request a call from one of our lawyers.