Last update on 16/02/2023

A guide on how to file for divorce in the UK, including conditions for the divorce process, what the costs of divorce in the UK are, and other essential information about filing for a legal separation.

Getting divorced in the UK is often time-consuming, involving lots of paperwork. However, it’s significantly easier if both parties reach a civil agreement. Here’s our guide to understanding the basics.

Rates of divorce in the UK

According to the most recent data from the Office of National Statistics (released in December 2016), divorce rates fell between 2004 and 2014. This was attributed to an increase in couples cohabiting and people get married at a later age. In total, there were 11,169 divorces in 2014.

The divorce process in the UK

Divorce law in the UK varies between the home countries. Rules and procedures surrounding divorce in the UK can be complicated, especially if you’re filing for divorce from abroad.

Filing for a divorce in England or Wales

To get divorced in England or Wales, you’ll need to have been married for at least a year.

You’ll also need to be a permanent resident in England or Wales. If you’re not, seek guidance using the government’s D8 notes.

There are three steps to getting court approval for your divorce:

  1. You’ll need to file for a divorce in the UK with the court and express your reasons
  2. You’ll need to get a decree nisi. You can obtain one of these fairly quickly if your spouse is in agreement with your reasons for divorce. However, if they dispute them, you’ll have to go to a court hearing.
  3. Once you have your decree nisi, you can apply for a decree absolute. This is the final stage in ratifying a divorce in the UK. You can apply for this six weeks after you’ve had your decree nisi granted.

Filing for a divorce in Scotland or Northern Ireland

While the conditions for filing also apply in Scotland, the system works somewhat differently to the one used in England and Wales. It places a different emphasis on property owned in the UK before the marriage. For full details of how the Scottish system differs, check out the Citizens Advice Guide to getting divorced in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, you’ll need to be married for at least two years before getting divorced. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service provides a full guide on how divorce works in Northern Ireland.

Conditions for entering into the divorce process in the UK

You must explain why your marriage has broken down when you file for divorce. The most common reasons are:

  • Adultery: you can’t use this if you lived together as a couple for six months after finding out
  • Unreasonable behavior: this includes violence, verbal abuse, and drinking or drug problems
  • Desertion: your husband or wife has left you
  • You’ve lived apart for more than two years (if you both agree to the divorce)
  • You’ve lived apart for more than five years (even if your former partner disagrees)

Filing for divorce in the UK

To file for divorce in the UK, you’ll need to fill in a divorce petition form, including the following details:

  • Full name and address
  • Spouse’s full name and address
  • Original marriage certificate

You’ll need to send three copies of your petition forms to the divorce center.

Cost of divorce in the UK

To start a divorce petition, you’ll need to pay a £550 fee. If you name a person your spouse committed adultery with, they’ll be entitled to receive copies of the paperwork.

Decree nisi

If your spouse doesn’t dispute your petition, you can apply for a decree nisi. A decree nisi is essentially a document that says the court sees no reason you can’t get divorced.

If, however, your spouse disputes the divorce, you’ll need to attend a court hearing to discuss the case before being having a decree nisi granted.

How to get a decree nisi:

  • Fill in an application form
  • If your husband/wife is disputing the case, request a case management hearing before a judge – this costs £50
  • Fill in the relevant statement form for the reason you are using for the divorce
  • Attach your husband/wife’s response to the petition

If your application is rejected, you’ll be sent a notice of refusal of judge’s certificate explaining the reasons, and you may need to go to a court hearing or need to supply further information.

Decree absolute

To apply for a decree absolute – which will legally end your marriage – you’ll need to wait at least six weeks (but no longer than 12 months) after you’ve received your decree nisi.

If you need legal help to divide your assets, you should apply for this first before attempting to obtain a decree absolute.

If your partner started the divorce but has stopped short of applying for a decree absolute, you can only do so after an extra three months – and you’ll have to pay a £155 fee and go to a court hearing.

Before granting a decree absolute, the court will check your files before sending both parties a copy. Once you receive your decree absolute, the divorce is official and can marry again.

How to respond to a UK divorce petition

If your partner files for a divorce, you will receive the following documents:

  • A divorce petition
  • A notice of proceedings form
  • An acknowledgement of service form, which you’ll need to fill out to proceed

If you don’t respond within 21 days, your partner can usually continue with the divorce as if you have agreed to it.

If you agree to divorce in the UK

You should respond within eight days by filling in the form and returning it to the divorce center, so the process can proceed quickly

If you disagree with the divorce petition

Fill in the ‘defending the divorce’ section of the acknowledgement of service form. Your spouse will then be sent a copy of your intention to dispute the petition, and you’ll have to say why you are defending the divorce within 21 days – a process called giving an answer.

How to start your own divorce proceedings

If you want to start your own proceedings against your spouse after receiving a petition, you can fill out a divorce petition form of your own – but you may need to pay a £550 fee.

If you defend your the petition or both sides file a petition, you’ll usually have to attend a court hearing to try to come to an agreement.

Other ways to end a relationship or marriage in the UK

If you want to be separated without officially getting divorced, you can instead apply for legal separation.

To get a separation you can use the same reasons you’d use to apply for a divorce in the UK, but you won’t need to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

A legal separation can be a good option if you have been married less than a year or want space to work out whether the marriage is definitely over, or if you have religious reasons for not wanting a divorce.

How to get a legal separation:

  • Fill out a judicial separation form (D8)
  • Send two copies of this to your nearest divorce court
  • Include a certified copy of your marriage/civil partnership certificate
  • Pay a £365 fee

Getting an annulment

Unlike with a divorce, you can get a marriage annulled any time after the wedding

To get an annulment, however, you’ll need to prove your marriage either wasn’t valid or was defective.

You can annul a marriage if:

  • You are closely related
  • One of you was aged under 16
  • One of you was already married or in a civil partnership
  • Your marriage wasn’t consummated
  • You didn’t properly consent to the marriage
  • The other person had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married
  • The female was pregnant by another man when you got married

Ending a civil partnership

You can apply to dissolve a civil partnership after a year.

To end your civil partnership, you must send paperwork to a court to ask for permission and show proof that you have worked out any childcare arrangements and maintenance payments and have divided any money and property.

If you’ve prepared agreements on these issues, you can usually avoid going to court.

How to end a civil partnership:

  • File a dissolution application
  • Apply for a conditional order
  • Apply for a final order within 6 weeks

Things to consider when getting divorced in the UK


If you have children with your spouse and are getting divorced, in the first instance it’s best to work out childcare and maintenance arrangements between you if you can. In the case that you agree on custody, you should be able to avoid having to go to a court hearing.

If you can’t agree on a plan, you can get advice through a mediator to help you come up with a parenting plan, and if this isn’t possible, you may have to go to hearings to get a court order before going before a judge or magistrate, who will rule on custody.

For full details of how the process works, it’s best to check out the guide on making child arrangements on the UK government website.


The process for agreeing how to divide property works similarly, in that if you can’t reach an agreement on how property should be split, the decision will be made by the courts.

What to do if your visa depends on your marriage

If your visa is based on your relationship, you’ll need to tell the UK home office, and then either apply for a new visa or leave the UK. You can find out more about how to do this by reading the UK government’s guide to Visas when you separate or divorce.

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