The Stages of Divorce – a Guide

Updated: January 2021
Ian Davies

To obtain a divorce in England and Wales, married couples have to follow a prescribed divorce process or procedure. Before starting the legal process, you should discuss your circumstances with a family solicitor. If you decide to apply for a divorce, you will follow the steps outlined below in the 5 stages of divorce.

Filing for Divorce

To file for a divorce, you need to decide on the reasons for your divorce and complete the appropriate divorce petition. This is sent to the Court together with the current Court fee (£550) and your marriage certificate. We recommend you ask a solicitor to help you complete the forms. The Court staff do not give advice on how to fill in these forms correctly.

Serving Divorce Papers

The Court will send a copy of the divorce papers to the Respondent. This stage of divorce is often referred to as the service of divorce papers. If the Respondent does not acknowledge receipt of the documents then the divorce papers may need to be served personally. Sometimes our clients worry because they do not know where the Respondent is. It is possible to divorce a missing spouse, but we may need to make a separate application to the Court in respect of the service of the documents.

Applying for Decree Nisi

After service of the divorce papers, further forms need to be completed to apply for the Decree Nisi. Once these documents are completed, it will typically take a number of weeks for a judge to confirm you are entitled to a divorce, known as the Certification of Entitlement. A date will then be set, a further 4-6 weeks in the future usually, for the grant a Decree Nisi. This is often considered to be the halfway stage of the divorce process.

What is a Decree Nisi?

The Decree nisi is a document which is granted by the court. It is pronounced once the Court is satisfied that you are entitled to a divorce.
Decree nisi is also the first time a legally qualified person (often a Judge) will consider the divorce petition at the Court, to establish whether or not you have satisfied the test ‘has the marriage irretrievably broken down?’. Once the Court has established this and granted you decree nisi, you then have six weeks and one day before you can apply for decree absolute to conclude the divorce proceedings. However, we advise waiting until your financial matters have concluded before doing so.

What is the Time between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute?

The Decree Absolute is the final stage in the divorce process. You can apply for this, 43 (is there a reason this is 43 days and not 6 weeks?) days after the Decree Nisi. In most cases we do not usually recommend that you apply for the Decree Absolute until you have reached an agreement on the division of the matrimonial assets. We will advise you about this in more detail during the process. People ask how long a Decree Nisi ‘lasts’ because they are concerned that they are finding it difficult to reach agreement on the financial arrangements. The answer is simple – the Decree Nisi does not have a time limit. However, should more than 12 months elapse between receiving your Decree Nisi and applying for your Decree Absolute, the reason for the delay will need to be explained to the Court. This can be done in the supporting letter applying for the Decree Absolute.

If you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement as to how your assets should be split, you might like to look at our article on why UK divorce settlements are not always 50 50. We hope this article will help you through what can be one of the trickiest stages of divorce.

You can click to find out more about the costs of divorce.

Whatever your situation, Cotswold Family Law can offer you expert and practical advice. You can also contact us to make an appointment with us for personal advice.