What to expect: The legal process for divorce or dissolution

Getting advice early will help you know what to expect so you can plan for the process. We outline the key steps for the legal process of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

The legal process

To get a divorce or dissolution in England or Wales prior to 2022, you were required to either live apart for two years or blame the other party for the breakdown of the marriage. Since the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, the requirement for fault or blame in the divorce process has been removed.

The only requirement of divorce is to state that there has been an irretrievable breakdown.

Stages in a divorce

Deciding whether to apply individually or as a couple: Couples can apply individually or as a couple. Joint applicants can switch to an individual application if they can no longer work together. However, individual applicants (sole filing) will not be able to change their application to a joint application.

Individual application
Joint application
 Initial application: One person (the applicant) begins the process. The form can be done online through GOV.UK, or through a solicitor.   Initial application: Applicant 1 starts the divorce application and then Applicant 2 fills in their information. Applicant 1 submits the application to the court. The couple must decide how to split the cost as Applicant 1 will pay the fee.
  Acknowledgement of service (AOS): The court sends the Respondent the divorce petition and an AOS form. The Respondent has 14 days to complete and return the AOS to court.   Acknowledgement of service (AOS): There is no AOS stage for joint applications.
And then for both individual or joint applications:
  • Wait period: There is a mandatory 20-week reflection period, which starts when the application is made. This is an opportunity for the couple to agree on practical arrangements for their separate futures and decide on changing their mind.
  • Apply for Conditional Order: Once the 20-week cooling off period has passed, the Applicant applies for the Conditional Order.
  • Court review: The court reviews the application for a Conditional Order. If this is approved, the court will issue a Certificate of Entitlement. This step shows the judge is satisfied that the couple are entitled to a divorce.
  • Second wait period: The couple must now wait a minimum of six weeks and one day before applying for a Final Order.  You should consider taking legal advice on sorting out your finances on divorce. If the couple wants a financial settlement to be binding, they must prepare a Financial Consent Order and present it to the court for approval. There may be financial consequences if you need but do not apply to the court for a financial remedy before the final order for divorce is made.
  • Apply for the Final Order: After the six weeks is up, the couple can apply for the Final Order. In an individual application, the Applicant will apply. The Respondent can also apply, if the Applicant has not, 3 months later.
  • Final Order granted by the court: It only takes a day or two after applying for the Final Order for the court to issue it. Once the couple have it, the marriage is officially ended.

Alongside that process you and your partner will need to work out arrangements for any children and sort out your family finances and housing arrangements.

How much will a divorce cost?

Lawyers’ costs vary across the country so you should ask them for a quote. Lawyers usually charge an hourly rate for the time they spend on your case, and for each letter or phone call. Sometimes they will charge you on a ‘fixed fee’ or some other basis. After your first meeting with your lawyer, you should be sent a letter (known as a ‘client care’ letter), setting out their charges and the details of who will handle your case.

If you are on a low income or on benefits, you may be entitled to help with your legal costs, known as legal aid, for example if you have evidence that you are a victim of domestic abuse. Your solicitor will tell you if you are entitled to legal aid, even if he or she doesn’t offer legal aid.

Court fees

Whether you use a lawyer or not, you must pay court fees to get a divorce or dissolution. This is currently £593 in England and Wales.

In relation to financial issues, if the couple agree on the financial issues and only require the Court to approve the consent order, the fee is £53. If you cannot agree and issue financial proceedings, the court fee is £275. If you cannot agree on child arrangements and you issue children act proceedings, the court fee is £232.

See the gov.uk website for up-to-date costs.

How long will it take to get a divorce?

Because of the 20-week cooling off period, a no-fault divorce will take a minimum of six months. Sorting out the finances and children through court often takes a lot longer. Sometimes, 12–18 months. Using an alternative method to court can reduce the time it will take, down to a few weeks in some cases.

Find out more about alternatives to court.

Dissolution of a civil partnership

The process for dissolution of civil partnership is the same as for divorce.