Navigating divorce

Over the years divorce legislation has come a long way. Prior to 1969, a spouse could only obtain a divorce if they could prove their partner was fundamentally at fault. All this changed with the reforms brought in under the Divorce Reform Act 1969, whereby after a set period of separation a spouse could apply for a divorce.

Up until 25 June 2020, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 was the main piece of legislation that presided over divorce. However, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, has brought in significant changes, including most significantly, no-fault divorce. Additional safeguards were included within this legislation to protect those in abusive relationships from contesting the divorce petition. This legislation is expected to come into force in Autumn 2021.

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, around 42% of marriages end in divorce, with unreasonable behaviour cited as the most common reason. Meanwhile, figures show that 62% of divorces are on petition of the wife.

Divorce is never an easy thing to navigate, no matter how progressive legislation has become. It’s often an emotional affair and it can be easy to get bogged down in the nitty gritty, and confused by the rules.

But, don’t worry, sit down, take a deep breath, and read on. Soon you’ll know everything there is to know about the divorce and how to navigate it all.

This article will explore:

  • Grounds for divorce
  • The stages of divorce
  • Timeframes
  • Costs and fees

Grounds for divorce

Before the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act was given royal assent, the UK’s divorce system was strictly fault-based. This meant that there was one ground on which a divorce petition could be made, whereby a petitioner had to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

A spouse could prove irretrievable breakdown through using one of five statutory facts including:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Desertion (for at least two years)
  • A separation period of two years , with both parties consenting to divorce
  • A separation period of five years, without consent from both parties

However, once the new changes are implemented, the five statutory facts will be replaced by a new requirement, whereby the petitioner provides a legal statement of irretrievable breakdown.

The stages of divorce

Unfortunately, divorce is not known for being a particularly speedy process, and even at the best of times, there are a number of different stages involved.

The petition – The first stage involves a spouse, otherwise known as petitioner, lodging a petition with the court. A divorce petition refers to the D8 form that a spouse must fill out, which gets the ball rolling and initiates proceedings.

On the D8 form, a petitioner must include basic information about themselves, such as their name, and address, as well as information about their spouse. The petitioner must also include information about:

  • Their acting solicitor
  • Details about their marriage
  • Jurisdiction
  • Reasons for divorce or dissolution
  • Financial order and divisions of money and property

When returning the D8 form, it is essential that a petitioner includes a number of additions such as:

Acknowledgment of Service – During the next stage, once a spouse has received a copy of the petition, they are required to sign and return the Acknowledgement of Service form to the court. Using this form, the respondent can outline their position, and whether or not they agree. If they agree, the divorce will be undefended, but if the divorce is contested, it will be known as a defended divorce. Few petitions result in the latter (2%) and once the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act is implemented, this will no longer be an option. However, if a spouse refuses to return the form, and the petitioner can prove their spouse has received it, the court can make an order of deemed service.

The decree nisi – In the third stage, once the petitioner has approved that the respondent has received the petition, they can then apply for a decree nisi. The court will then review the petition, and supporting documents and analyse whether or not the legal and procedural requirements have been met. If the court approves all of this, it will grant a decree nisi pronouncement date.

The decree absolute – The fourth and final stage involves an applicant applying for a decree absolute, which when granted, brings an end to their marriage.

Under new divorce legislation, the language used throughout this process will soon change, too. “Decree Nisi” will become “Conditional Order,” “Decree Absolute” will become “Final Order” and “Petitioner” will become the “Applicant”.


Expected timeframes for divorce proceedings will vary depending on whether the divorce is defended or undefended. However, a straightforward divorce with no challenges should take around four to six months to finalise. That being said, once the new divorce laws are implemented, the process will take at least six months.

Of course there are also other variables that can impact the expected timeframes, including decisions around money property and children, which can end up significantly extending the process. Let’s take a closer look…

Once a petitioner has filed a D8 form, the court then has to issue divorce papers to the respondent, which can take around two to three weeks. After this, the respondent has seven days to file their Acknowledgement of Service.

Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which is yet to come into effect, there will be a new overall notice period of twenty-weeks between the commencement of proceedings and the decree nisi.

Following this, the decree absolute can be applied for six weeks and one day after the decree nisi was pronounced in court.

Costs and fees

Divorces are unfortunately infamous for being expensive, however when both parties agree, and the divorce petition is not contested, costs can be minimised. Although this is of course the best case scenario.

To begin with when it comes to filing for divorce there is a mandatory court-filing fee which is £550 and paid by the petitioner.

On top of this, in cases of uncontested divorce, solicitor fees can set a petitioner back by between £450 to £950. However, for the respondent, fees will be lower, at between £240 and £600.

A financial settlement will increase costs due to a solicitor being required to draft a Financial Remedy Consent order. Individuals can be expected to pay up to £800 here, with an additional £50 for court charges. Alas, this is not the maximum fee which can in fact shoot up to around £1,500.

Additionally, if two parties are unable to come to an agreement, they may seek out mediation, which can raise costs by an additional £1,200.

Final thoughts

While divorce can understandably be an emotional and complicated journey, being informed about the process, costs and timeframes will put you in good stead.

Equipped with the knowledge you need to navigate this sometimes treacherous path, you should be able to travel through more easily, and hopefully more quickly.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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