The stages of divorce are very often an emotional and potentially intimidating process. Nobody wants to deal with divorce, but if you are considering a divorce, would like support, or are concerned about what is involved, it may help to learn more about the divorce process step by step, including the different stages of divorce and the legal requirements of each step.
The Divorce Process, Step by Step
1. Check you meet the requirements for a divorce in England
The first stage of divorce is to ensure that you and your spouse have the legal right to apply for a divorce. Currently, in England and Wales, you must meet these criteria:
- You must have been married for over a year
- Your relationship must have permanently broken down
- Your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK
Prior to April 2022, you had to have valid grounds to make legal steps towards divorce, with one party applying for divorce against the other.
However, the rules have since changed. Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, the no-fault divorce laws now allow couples to apply jointly for divorce, encouraging couples to be more amicable. Under the new rules, parties need not blame each other for the divorce. The ability to defend a divorce has been removed save in a limited number of circumstances, none of which relate to the actual breakdown of the marriage. Listen to senior solicitor Hayley Edwards discussing these changes.
2. Make arrangements
When you decide to follow the legal steps for divorce, you must consider any arrangements that need to be made between you and your spouse. This might include arrangements for your children or financial agreements in respect of the division of any assets or property.
At this stage of divorce, you do not have to go to Court with regard to your children if you both agree on what to do. Having reached an agreement you can record the agreement in a Parenting Plan or you could make a joint application to Court for an agreed Child Arrangements Order.
However, if you don’t agree, you may wish employ a mediator. If mediation is unsuccessful you would then be able to make an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order.
In relation to the financial aspect of the matter, you can choose to agree matters between yourselves or use a mediator. However, you must apply for a Consent Order to make any agreement reached (either between yourselves or through mediation) legally binding. If you cannot agree, you can ask the courts to make a Financial Provision Order.
3. Application for divorce
When you are ready, you can apply for a divorce. This can be done online or by post and will cost £593. If you are on benefits or a low income, you may be entitled to assistance with this fee.
4. Spouse’s response
Once you have applied, the next stage of divorce is that the courts will send a copy of the application and an Acknowledgement of Service form to your spouse. They must respond within 14 days with an answer indicating whether or not they agree with the divorce. As of April 2022, you can only disagree with the divorce on legal grounds (such as if you live abroad and believe that the Court of England and Wales does not have jurisdiction to deal with the proceedings. You can no longer contest that the marriage has broken down.
If your spouse does not respond, you can arrange for a process server to serve the papers to your spouse – they will provide a statement of service which can be used in place of the Acknowledgement of Service.
5. Application for a Conditional Order (formerly Decree Nisi)
After your divorce application has been issued, you must wait 20 weeks from the date of issue before applying for a conditional order. The Conditional Order is a document which the courts will then send to the parties to state that they do not see any reason why the couple may not divorce.
If your application for a Conditional Order is rejected, the form will tell you why and give you instructions on what to do to rectify the situation.
6. When a Conditional Order is granted
After you have applied, the certificate granting you a Conditional Order may take several weeks to arrive. It will also tell you the exact date and time you will be legally considered as having a Conditional Order.
Once the Conditional Order has been granted, you must wait 6 weeks and 1 day before you can move to the next legal step for divorce. Remember that you are still legally married at this stage.
7. Application for a Final Order of Divorce (formerly Decree Absolute)
The Final Order is the document that declares that you are officially no longer married. You must apply for a Final Order within twelve months of being granted a Conditional Order. If you wish to apply for a Final Order more than twelve months after the Conditional Order has been granted then the reasons for the delay must be explained to the Court before the Order is granted.
Remember to keep the Final Order safe. It is necessary if you intend to remarry and for you to be able to prove your marital status.
8. Report any changes
If you are on benefits or on a visa that depends upon your marriage (such as a family visa), you must ensure you report your new marital status to the government or Home Office. If you do not, you can face fines and may have to return any benefits overpayment.
Divorce can be difficult and complex, but you don’t have to go through the stages of divorce alone. At Newtons, our divorce and separation team is well-versed in cases of relationship breakdowns. We can help you with legal advice and guidance throughout the process to ensure that your divorce goes as smoothly as possible. For more information or advice, please get in touch with us today.
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