How the Divorce Process Operates in the UK

As the UK slowly emerges from the very worst depth of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the vaccine rollout enabling more and more aspects of society to reopen, there’s a very good chance that more and more people will be looking into the details of the divorce process. This may seem like a pessimistic way of looking at things, but it’s an inevitable consequence of the pressures which have been placed on so many couples during the previous 18 months. Here at Higgins Miller we specialise in dealing in family law, and this involves helping clients deal with the divorce process as quickly and calmly as possible. We also handle situations such as adoption, wills and probate and domestic abuse, so we’re used to the kind of emotional turmoil which often accompanies the divorce process. 

Ending a relationship is never easy, and it’s fair to say that the divorce process will be slightly different for each and every couple. For many, the decision will be mutual, and the divorce process itself will simply represent a formal recognition of the fact that the relationship has ended. For others, the divorce process may lead to disputes over assets such as property and the arrangements which have to be made for any children. In all cases we offer a combination of expert legal advice and empathetic support as we guide our clients through the divorce process in a manner which is designed to reduce conflict and reach amicable agreements wherever possible. The actual divorce process itself can be broken down as follows:

Filing a Petition 

The spouse initiating the divorce needs to fill in a divorce petition form which includes the following information:

  • The full name and address of each spouse
  • The names and birth dates of any children of the marriage, including those now aged over 18
  • The grounds for divorce

This petition will be lodged at the nearest divorce centre, with two copies needed, or even three if another individual is named in a divorce petition which cites adultery as the grounds. The marriage certificate will also need to be sent to the divorce centre, and the cost for lodging a petition in this way is currently £550 (although some reduction may be possible if the individual is in receipt of benefits or has an income which falls below a certain level). It will then take two to three weeks for the court or divorce centre to serve a copy of the petition to the spouse. 

Acknowledging Service

The spouse of the person filing for divorce has a time limit of seven days in which to reply to the petition by filling in an acknowledgement of service form, which also details whether they intend to contest the divorce, and whether they admit to any adultery which has been alleged. We always advise our clients against fighting contested divorces wherever possible, as we know from experience that contesting a petition of this kind always leads to more stress, conflict and expense. If both sides manage to remain calm the divorce process generally runs much more smoothly. If no acknowledgement of service is received after 28 days of the divorce petition being received, the spouse filing for divorce will be able to proceed as if the other party agreed with the divorce. 

Decree nisi application

The process of applying for a decree nisi involves completing an application form and providing a supporting statement. Working with experts in the divorce process such as those at Higgins Miller will ensure that the application is filled in and signed correctly and submitted to the court. The papers will then be considered by a judge who, in the vast majority of cases, will certify that the claimant is entitled to a decree nisi, which is a document stating that the court sees no reason why the divorce should not proceed. The date for the decree nisi to be formally announced is approximately eight weeks after this certification.   

Decree nisi pronouncement

The time taken for the divorce process to move from the petition to the decree nisi being pronounced is usually approximately four to five months. There is no need for the spouse filing for divorce to attend court to hear the decree nisi pronounced. In some cases there will be unresolved financial questions between both parties at this stage, which is why the divorce process sometimes pauses after the decree nisi in order for the parties to reach an agreement over issues such as pensions and who has the right to live in the family home. We would always advise that both parties attempt to negotiate agreement on issues such as this before the divorce process begins, but if this is not possible it should definitely be attempted prior to the decree absolute, as any changes will then become permanent.

Decree absolute

This marks the formal end of a marriage and the end of the divorce process, and the earliest date on which a petitioner can apply for decree absolute is six weeks and one day after the decree nisi is pronounced. Both parties are then free to remarry, although the respondent in any divorce – i.e. not the spouse who initially filed the petition – will not be able to launch any further financial claim on their ex-spouse if they do remarry. The fact that financial claims can still be made following a decree nisi – something which many divorcing couples don’t realise – is just one reason why we always advise clients to negotiate a clean break order as part of the divorce.

This is a legal agreement that the finances of the spouses are separated permanently following the decree absolute, allowing both to get on with the rest of their lives. If you want to ask about the divorce process please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected]. We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.

divorce process


September 13, 2021

Divorce & Civil Partnership