How to get a divorce: the new divorce process explained

Getting a divorce can be a long and complicated process, especially if you're not familiar with the legal system. If you're considering getting a divorce in England or Wales (the Scottish have their own legal system which differs in important ways), there are a few things you need to know in order to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.

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First and foremost, it's important to understand that there is no such thing as a "quick" divorce in England and Wales. However, there have been some very significant changes to the way that people get divorced in England and Wales. Under the previous divorce laws, couples had to file for divorce on the basis of one of 5 grounds for divorce; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation for more than 2 years, separation for more than 5 years, or desertion.

Now the reformed no-fault divorce laws mean that since April 2022 separating couples can file for divorce without having to attribute the breakdown to one of the 5 grounds for divorce. Couples can simply divorce on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, provided they have been married for over a year. Under the old divorce law, if someone didn’t want to be divorced, they could obstruct the process by objecting to the divorce. This is now no longer possible.

Despite the introduction of simpler no-fault divorce laws, getting a divorce still takes about 6 months. If you're based in England and Wales and considering getting a divorce, there are a few things you'll need to keep in mind. In this article, we'll walk you through the steps of getting a divorce, from filing for divorce to finalising the paperwork.

1. Before you apply

You must decide whether you want to make a joint application with your husband or wife, or if each of you want to make an individual application.

Checking you are eligible for divorce

Before getting started, it’s important to ensure that you are eligible for divorce. To get a divorce in England or Wales, the following criteria must apply:

  • It's been over a year since you got married
  • The marriage is legally recognised

Applying jointly (joint application)

One of the biggest changes introduced by the new divorce law is that now, joint applications can be made when you both agree that the marriage is at an end and want to get divorced. This change recognises that often married couples jointly decide that they don’t have a future together but want to approach the ending of their relationship in a dignified and collaborative way.

You have the option to either apply for the divorce online or by post - in either case, your spouse needs to use the same application method in order for it to be recognised as a joint application.

Once you’ve both applied, both individuals will have to separately confirm that they wish to proceed with the divorce application. This happens throughout each stage of the divorce process.

If your ex-partner stops responding or engaging with the application process, you will still be able to proceed as an individual applicant. It can help to keep a line of communication open with your ex-partner throughout the joint divorce application process to ensure that both of you are engaging with the steps needed to proceed with the divorce.

Applying by yourself (sole application)

In some situations, one person will apply for the divorce on their own. This is known as a sole application. This usually happens in the following situations:

  • If your ex-partner does not want to get a divorce
  • If you do not believe your ex-partner will cooperate or engage with communications from the court

In a sole application, the individual also applies for the conditional and final order.

How much does a divorce cost?

To apply a divorce in the UK, you’ll need to pay a £593 court fee. This fee is not refunded, and is mandatory for anybody who is applying for a divorce. You may be able to get help with paying court fees from the government. You can find out more information about this, and how to apply for help, on their court fee help page.

On top of this one-off court fee, it’s important to consider the other costs associated with getting a divorce. Some people want a solicitor to help them with the divorce process. Legal aid is no longer available for this kind of solicitor help so you will be paying several £100’s for someone to do what almost everyone can do themselves.

Getting a divorce - so that you are no longer married and have an official piece of paper to prove this - is for most people the easiest bit of getting divorced. Far more tricky is resolving the practical aspects of the divorce, whether that’s a financial settlement or sorting out arrangements for any children. Making the right decision about the best way for you to deal with these practical aspects of a divorce will potentially save you tens of thousands of pounds, as well as reduce delay and stress.

2. Making your application

You can apply for a divorce online or by post. In either case, all you’ll need to do is complete a divorce petition (also known as a Form D8), which you can find on the government website. Once this has been completed, the form is then submitted to the court with either the original or a copy of your marriage certificate.

If you are applying online, then the completed divorce petition is sent to

If you are applying by post, the form is sent to:

HMCTS Divorce and Dissolution service
PO Box 13226
CM20 9UG

Most people use the online option as it is very straightforward and easy to follow.

3. After you’ve applied

The steps you’ll need to take following your application will be slightly different depending on whether you applied for the divorce jointly or solely.

If you submitted a joint application

If you completed your application with your ex-partner, you will both receive a notice of confirmation that the application has been issued. You’ll also each receive a copy of the application stamped by HM Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS), as well as an acknowledgement receipt and case number.

It’s important that you keep a record of these documents and your case number, as this will help you reference your case and when needed.

20-week reflection period

Under the reformed divorce laws, you must allow a minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings before proceeding with the divorce and obtaining a conditional order.

This is intended to allow divorcing couples to make arrangements and plans for the future. For instance, making agreements about any property and other finances as well as sorting out arrangements for any children.

For many separating couples, deciding on agreeable solutions can be one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process, many use divorce mediation to make the process more straightforward. This involves attending private sessions run by a family mediator, who is trained to help you reach mutually agreeable resolutions. You can find out more about family mediation here.

If you submitted a sole application

If you submitted a sole divorce application, the process looks very similar to that for a joint application. You will receive confirmation that your application has been issued, a copy of the application (stamped by HMCTS), and your unique case number. Your ex-partner will then receive what’s known as an acknowledgment of service.

Acknowledgement of service

Once the sole divorce petition has been filed and sent to the courts, your ex-partner will receive a copy of your application form alongside a form that they’ll have to complete and return to the courts. This is the acknowledgement of service (AOS).

Your ex-partner then has 14 days to respond to the AOS. Whether they agree or intend to dispute the divorce, they are required to fill in the AOS form and return it to the court.

If they agree to divorce

If your ex-partner agrees with the divorce, then you will be able to proceed by applying for a conditional order (this is known as the decree nisi for divorce applications submitted before April 6th 2022).

If they disagree with the divorce

If your ex-partner disputes the divorce, then they must provide a reason as to why they do not agree. This is provided via an official ‘answer form’ provided by the courts. This must be one of the legally recognised reasons which are:

  • The court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce.
  • The marriage is not a valid marriage.
  • The marriage has already legally ended.
The divorce cannot be disputed simply because one partner does not want to divorce.

At this point, many divorcing couples may consider family mediation, which helps disputing parties come to a mutually acceptable agreement without the involvement of court. This can help avoid delays to the process, and help separating couples come together on solutions for property, finance, child contact, and other issues. Speak to a mediator to find out more.

If they do not respond to the acknowledgement of service within 14 days, you can proceed with the divorce and apply for a conditional order.

Apply for a conditional order (previously a decree nisi)

A conditional order (previously known as a decree nisi prior to April 2022) is a document that confirms that the courts see no reason why you cannot divorce, and that the applicant is happy for the divorce to go ahead.

Following the 20-week reflection period, you will be able to apply for a conditional order and proceed with the divorce process. If your application is accepted, then the court will issue a certificate of entitlement and confirm when your conditional order will be granted.

Once the conditional order has been granted, you are a step closer to finalising the divorce. The conditional order is granted with a 6-week cooling-off period before you can apply for the final order.

Obtain a final order (previously a decree absolute)

Once you've obtained a conditional order, there's still one more hurdle to jump before your divorce is finalised—applying for a final order. This was previously known as a decree absolute if your divorce application was issued before April 6th 2022.

You can apply for the final order six weeks and one day after the date of your conditional order hearing. Once the final order has been issued, you are officially divorced and no longer married. Although you can apply for a final order 43 days after the conditional order, you may decide it’s best to delay doing so until all the financial aspects of the divorce have been finalised. For example, until a financial consent order is finalised.

You can file your final order application either online or by post. The court will provide you with the details of how this process works, and you can find out more details on the government website.

Once your final order has been issued, each individual will receive a copy of the final order. Remember to keep this document safe, as you’ll need this to prove your marital status in the future if you wish to remarry.

Using mediation to help you divorce

So, although the process of getting your piece of paper to say you are no longer married, has got easier, the divorce process can be complex when there are disputes regarding post-divorce agreements. However, there is one way to help ease the process.

Family mediation helps divorcing couples find mutually agreeable solutions, without the involvement of the court. Whilst the costs of mediation differ across companies, it is often much cheaper than paying solicitor fees, and can even be free for eligible individuals, because legal aid is still available for mediation.

When divorcing, couples use mediation to help them come together on agreements for important issues, such as property, savings and debts, financial support and pensions as well as child arrangements, and other matters.

Having opened over 32,000 cases, our experienced family mediators at Mediation First are here to help you throughout the divorce process. Explore our family mediation services, or get in touch with us to find out more.