No-fault divorce rules were introduced in the UK in 2022 to help make the divorce process more straightforward. Under this system, divorcing couples no longer have to cite grounds for divorce or attribute blame to be able to end their marriage. But the divorce process can still be both emotionally and financially demanding, particularly if the relationship has broken down in difficult circumstances.
In this guide, we explain how to get divorced in the UK, and answer frequently asked questions to help you understand your rights as you formally separate from your ex.
UK divorce law
Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (DDSA) 2020 that came into force on 6 April 2022, there is no longer a need to attribute any blame so as to satisfy the court that the marriage cannot be saved. This no fault divorce system means that getting divorced is now far more streamlined and, as such, it is far less likely to cause any additional animosity between the parties.
Under the no-fault divorce system, a couple can get divorced if all of the following are true:
- the couple has been married for a minimum of one year;
- their relationship has permanently broken down;
- their marriage is legally recognised in the UK, including same-sex marriage;
- they are habitually resident or domiciled in England and Wales.
Importantly, the parties must have some connection to England or Wales for the courts to have the legal power, or jurisdiction, to grant a divorce. This will depend on whether or not the parties’ lives are based in England or Wales, including working there, owning property, having children in school, or having their main family life taking place there. Provided one or both parties have been habitually resident in England and Wales for the last 12 months, the court will have the jurisdiction to be able to deal with the matter. If not, the other way to be legally connected to England and Wales is if one or both parties are domiciled there.
A person’s domicile is usually the place in which they were born, and they regard as their permanent home and to which they have the closest ties. However, domicile can be more complex, for example, if a person or their parents have moved countries. Leaving one’s domicile of origin to settle in another country as an adult may mean that the new country becomes a person’s domicile of choice. If in any doubt, the applicant(s) should seek legal advice. The parties should also get legal advice if they want help with the divorce process.
Grounds for divorce in the UK
Under the DDSA, to be able to get divorced, the applicant(s) must be able to show that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is the sole legal ground for divorce in England and Wales, where the couple’s marriage must have permanently ended.
Under previous law, prior to the introduction of the DDSA, the person petitioning for divorce (the petitioner) was required to establish one of five “facts” to prove irretrievable breakdown. These facts included adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion. The only way the petitioner was able to avoid attributing any blame was to wait for a period of 2 years, at which stage they could petition for divorce on the basis of 2 years’ separation, provided the other person (the respondent) agreed to getting divorced. Without the respondent’s consent, to be able to get divorced on a no fault basis, the petitioner would need to prove that the couple had been separated for a period of at least 5 years.
Under the DDSA’s no fault divorce regime, each applicant, if applying together, or the sole applicant, if applying alone, now simply needs to tick the following declaratory statement that forms part of the application process: “I confirm that my marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably”. There is no longer any requirement to establish one of the former five “facts” in support of this statement, where the court is bound by law to treat this statement as conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Stages of the divorce process
Below we set out the different stages of the no fault divorce process, providing guidance on how to apply. These same stages apply for dissolution of a civil partnership, although there is a different process for divorce or dissolution in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
1. Decide how to apply for a divorce
An application can be made for a divorce either online or by post using Form D8. One person can apply on their own (as a sole applicant) or together with their former partner (as joint applicants). If the parties apply on a joint basis, they will be referred to as applicant 1 and applicant 2. If one person applies alone, the parties will be referred to as the sole applicant and respondent. Where applying together, the parties will need to decide what application method to use before starting the divorce process.
2. Complete the application
The applicant(s) will be asked whether their marriage has broken down irretrievably; when they got married and if they have their marriage certificate; whether they want to apply on a sole or joint basis; if they need help paying the divorce fee; their connections to England and Wales; their names and addresses, and how the court should contact them; if either person has changed their name since getting married; if there are any other court cases relating to the marriage; and if they want to apply for a financial order for themselves or any children. The applicant(s) will also need to provide a copy of their marriage certificate and a deed poll to show any name change.
3. Respond to any notification
If the parties applied jointly, they will be sent a notice that the application has been issued, plus a copy of the application stamped by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an acknowledge receipt and a case number. If the application was made by one person, the sole applicant will be sent notice that their application has been issued, a copy of the application stamped by HMCTS and a case number. The court will also send the respondent the divorce application and an acknowledgement of service notification. They must respond to this notification within 14 days saying whether they agree with the divorce or intend to dispute it. However, there are only very limited ways in which a divorce can be contested, for example, on jurisdictional grounds.
4. Apply for a conditional order
There is a 20 week cooling-off period before an application can be made to the court for a conditional order. This is the order from the court declaring that there is no reason why the parties cannot get divorced. The 20-week wait time is to provide the parties with a meaningful period of reflection, and to make any arrangements around finances and children. If the online divorce process was used, the parties will be given instructions on how to apply for a conditional order, otherwise Form D84 can be used to apply by post. Provided the paperwork is in order, the court will issue a certificate of entitlement confirming the time and date that the conditional order will be pronounced in open court. However, the parties will not be required to attend.
5. Apply for a final order
Once the conditional order has been pronounced, there is a further cooling-off period of 6 weeks and one day before an application can be made for a final order. Again instructions will be given to the parties if they applied online, or they can download Form D36 to apply by post to make a conditional order final. If the divorce was started by one party but they fail to apply for a final order, the other person can apply instead, although they will need to wait 3 months, 6 weeks and 1 day following the grant of the conditional order. Equally, if the parties applied together for a divorce, but one person stops responding, the other person can still proceed as a sole applicant.
How do you use the online divorce process in the UK?
To use the online divorce process, the applicant(s) should navigate the ‘Get a divorce: step by step’ guide at GOV.UK, which provides a link to apply online. The parties can apply by post, if they wish, but the online service will make the divorce process faster and easier.
If the parties are applying jointly, one person will need to initiate the online application, answering a number of questions as applicant 1 and providing an email address for applicant 2. The form will then be sent to applicant 2 for them to review, before being sent back to applicant 1 for their approval. If in order, the application will be issued by the court.
Applicant 1 will be liable to pay the court fee, and will need to pay this using a debit or credit card, although the parties may have an agreement for applicant 2 to contribute to this cost. This should be discussed in advance before starting the divorce process.
How long does the divorce process take in the UK?
When applying for a divorce in England and Wales, this will take at least 6 months, to reflect the total 26-week wait time. However, where the parties are also applying to the court to deal with the division of the marital assets, this may delay the process. This is because most couples will seek to settle their finances before applying for a final order.
The court is able to make a financial order, either by consent or following a contested hearing, once the conditional order has been granted. Importantly, any agreement between the parties will not be legally binding unless approved by the court. It is also worth noting that where a financial order has not been made prior to a final order, this may impact any rights around inheritance and pension benefits on the death of one person.
How much does the divorce process cost in the UK?
The fee to apply for a divorce, either online or by post, is £593. This fee covers the costs of processing the divorce, including the applications for a conditional and final order.
However, if the parties are either on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits, and have little or no savings, they may be eligible for financial assistance. As with the divorce itself, an application for help with fees can be made online or by post using Form EX160.
Divorce process FAQs
What are the stages of getting a divorce?
There are three main stages when getting divorced: issuing proceedings, the grant of a conditional order and the grant of a final order, officially bringing the marriage to an end.
How long does it take to get a divorce?
To get divorced in England and Wales will take a minimum of 6 months. This is because there is a total 26-week mandatory cooling-off period to provide the parties with a period of reflection and to agree any financial arrangements.
What are the steps for divorce in UK?
To get divorced in England and Wales, you will need to issue an online application and wait 20 weeks before applying for a conditional order. After a further 6 weeks and 1 day you can apply for a final order.
How long do you need to be separated before you can divorce?
When applying for a divorce in England and Wales, there is no requirement to be separated for any minimum period of time. This is because there is no need to establish any factual basis for irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
Can I get a UK divorce online?
You can apply for a divorce online or by post. If applying online, you will need to submit your application using the HM Courts and Tribunals Service at GOV.UK. To apply by post, you must download Form D8.
How long does it take for a divorce to go through online?
When applying for a divorce online, the process is more streamlined than applying by post, although there is still a 20-week cooling-off period before applying for a conditional order, plus a further 6-week wait before applying for a final order.
Can I get a free divorce?
The fee to issue divorce proceedings is £593. However, if the joint applicant(s), or the sole applicant and respondent, are on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits, they may qualify for financial assistance with this fee.
How can I get a quick divorce in the UK?
The introduction of no fault divorce under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 6 April 2022 has made the divorce process far more streamlined, but it will still take at least 6 months to get a divorce.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute tax, financial or legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert tax, financial, legal or other advice should be sought.