Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership

Divorce is a court process which dissolves your marriage, so that you are no longer legally tied to each other (and you are free to marry someone else if you wish).

If you are a same-sex couple, you will be legally married if:

  • you have been through a legal marriage ceremony in the UK (after 2013) or
  • you have been through a legal marriage ceremony overseas (at any time) or
  • you have converted your UK civil partnership into a marriage (after 2014). 

If you are in a civil partnership, then you will need to go through the process of dissolving your civil partnership.  This is exactly the same as getting divorced, except that there is some slightly different terminology.

What do I need to prove to get divorced or to dissolve my civil partnership?

You will have to satisfy the family court that your marriage (or civil partnership) has irretrievably broken down on the basis of:

  • Unreasonable behaviour (which can cover a wide range of issues in practice)
  • Adultery (which means that you or your partner has had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex; adultery is not a ground for dissolving a civil partnership and nor does it include same-sex intimacy; however, in practice infidelity of any kind can be cited as an example of unreasonable behaviour instead)
  • Two years separation with consent from both spouses
  • Five years separation
  • Desertion

Some couples prefer to wait until they have been separated for two years so that a divorce petition can be filed without detailing the difficulties between them. However, there are ways of handling unreasonable behaviour petitions sensitively for those who wish to get divorced amicably before they have been separated for two years.

What is the process for getting divorced or dissolving my civil partnership?

The divorce process generally takes 3-4 months and is completed on paper.  Although a judge needs to approve the application and make a court order, it is very unusual to be asked to attend court in person.  

If there are financial or children issues to resolve, these are dealt with in separate proceedings. Find out more about resolving financial issues and about resolving children disputes.

You or your partner (the petitioner) must prepare the divorce (or dissolution) petition and send it to the court, together with the court fee. The petition should give details about the grounds for divorce or dissolution. It should also say whether you intend to make any financial claims and whether you wish to claim the court fee from your spouse.  The issue of costs is a sensitive one and it is often best to try and resolve this in advance by negotiation.

The court will issue the petition (stamp it and give it a case number) and send the stamped petition and an acknowledgement of service form to the other spouse (the respondent).  

If you are the respondent, you need to complete the acknowledgement of service form and send it back to the court within seven days.  Your response should indicate whether you accept that the marriage should come to an end, or wish to defend the petition (or to file a cross petition). Most petitions are undefended, because if one of you wants the marriage to come to an end it is not usually realistic for the other to argue that it should continue. If the divorce is undefended, this does not mean that all the financial or children issues are agreed; these issues will be dealt with separately.  If you are the respondent, you will also need to say whether you agree to pay the court fee, to make a contribution toward it, or whether you dispute paying it.

If you are the petitioner, you then complete a court form called a statement in support of the petition, and file this with the court (attaching your partner's acknowledgment of service).  You can then ask the court to set a date for decree nisi (or conditional order if you are dissolving a civil partnership).  A judge will look at the application and decide whether the procedure has been completed correctly and whether the grounds for divorce are adequately satisfied. If so, the judge will set a date for decree nisi (or conditional order). Decree nisi means that the divorce will be made final unless your spouse shows a reason (within six weeks) why it should not.

Six weeks and one day after the date of decree nisi (or conditional order), you can apply for decree absolute (or final order, if you are dissolving a civil partnership). If the petitioner does not apply, the respondent can apply instead but has to wait a bit longer (three months after the date of decree nisi). 

When the decree absolute or final order is made, your marriage or civil partnership legally comes to an end.

Have we answered your question? Would you like advice on your personal circumstances?

Email us at hello@ngalaw.co.uk or call on 020 3701 5915 and we will explain how we can help.