How to Start a Divorce

As a law firm which specialises in family matters, we’re often approached by people who are unsure exactly how to start a divorce. The good news is that we’re used to dealing with issues such as financial settlements, children disputes and wills and probate, so we understand how to combine expert legal advice with a supportive and understanding attitude. If you come to us to find out how to start a divorce we’ll explain the process in language that’s easy to understand, and in a manner which seeks to minimise both the stress and the expense involved.

The easiest way of dealing with the question of how to start a divorce is to break it down into individual stages. For the purposes of this fairly brief explanation, the word ‘marriage’ will be used to describe a civil partnership as well. The ending of a civil partnership is technically referred to as ‘dissolution’ rather than divorce, but the overriding principles are very similar.

The actual process of every divorce will differ slightly depending upon the specifics of each individual case. If one party doesn’t agree on the divorce, for example, or there are disputes over any financial settlement, then the divorce can take longer and may involve more court appearances or, at the very least, meditation sessions designed to negotiate a settlement. In many cases, however, both parties have decided that it is time for the relationship to end, and our aim is to guide our clients through the process as quickly and calmly as possible.

The first stage of starting a divorce is ensuring that you meet certain stipulations. These are as follows:

  • The marriage must have lasted for at least 12 months
  • You must view England or Wales as your permanent home, or be domiciled here if you live abroad
  • You must have grounds for divorce

Grounds for Divorce

There are basically five different reasons why a divorce might be granted by the court, and it is essential that you choose the right grounds when you start the process, as correcting mistakes further down the line can be both expensive and time-consuming. The grounds for divorce which are usually used are as follows:


This means your spouse has had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex. Although adultery can be used as grounds for divorce whether you and your spouse are living together or separately, the divorce petition has to be sent to the court within six months of the adultery in question taking place.

Unreasonable Behaviour

Citing unreasonable behaviour as the grounds for divorce means establishing that your spouse has behaved in a manner which makes it impossible for you to live with them. The behaviour you detail when filing for divorce could be anything from excessive drinking and violence to financial extravagance or a refusal to engage in sexual or physical relations. Unreasonable behaviour is the most common reason given for divorce, and the fact that fairly ‘minor’ seeming behaviour – such as being exclusively focused on a career or having no interests in common – can be accepted by the court means that it is the grounds for divorce which the other party is most likely to accept.     


Your spouse has deserted you, without your consent, for a continuous period of at least two years.

Two Year Separation

This can be used as grounds for a divorce if you both agree to the divorce and have been living separately for a period of at least two years immediately before filing with the court.

Five Year Separation

If you and your spouse have been living apart for at least five years immediately before filing with the court, then you can file for divorce without your spouse’s agreement.

Once the grounds for divorce have been decided, you need to fill in a D8 divorce petition form, detailing the grounds for divorce chosen in the relevant section. This is basically the point at which you ask the permission of the court to divorce, and give them the reasons why you feel you should be allowed to. There is currently a fee of £550 to start a divorce in this manner, although you may be able to get help with this payment if you are on a low income or receiving certain benefits.  If your partner agrees with the divorce petition you’ve presented, then you will be given a decree nisi, which is basically an interim divorce certificate which allows for a six weeks ‘cooling off’ period.

Although explaining how to start a divorce sounds relatively straightforward, the process can become much more complex if both partners don’t agree to the divorce taking place, and if there are serious arguments over issues such as finances and childcare. It’s also vital that every part of the original application is filled in correctly and that the grounds for divorce chosen are legitimate and explained in a manner which the court will accept. Making any mistakes at this stage could be costly both financially and emotionally.

If you’d like to learn more about how to start a divorce then please contact us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected], and a member of our team will be happy to explain. Your first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we keep costs down further by offering a fixed fee first appointment, so you’ll never spend more than you’re expecting to spend. For more on our wider funding, and on what we charge for handling the full divorce process, see here.

How to Start a Divorce

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