Love, Marriage & Partnership

Getting a divorce in the UK

Had enough? (Good for you!) Here’s what you need to know about filing for a divorce or dissolution in the UK.

divorce UK

By Emily Martin

Updated 8-4-2024

Officially ending your relationship is time-consuming and requires multiple steps and paperwork. It’s significantly easier if both parties reach a civil agreement. Are you ready to take the first step to independence?

Learn what you need to know about divorces in the UK, including:


lingoking is an online platform providing personal and professional translation services. With a network of over 5,000 experts, they offer fast and reliable translation products. So, whether you need a document translated or a dedicated interpreter, you'll find the right translation service for you with lingoking.

What are the divorce rates in the UK?

Divorce is very common nowadays. So much so that the first working Monday of January is often dubbed National Divorce Day.

In the UK, approximately 42% of marriages end in divorce, with divorce rates in England and Wales increasing by 9.8% in the years 2020-2021. In Northern Ireland, the number of divorces skyrocketed with a massive 35.3% increase. Meanwhile, Scotland saw a decrease in divorces, with 28% less in 2020-2021 than the previous year.

Most divorces were among heterosexual couples (98.6%), with just 1.4% of divorces being among same-sex couples. The majority of those (67.2%) were female same-sex couples.

Woman pointing at a phone while her partner is shrugging and looking at her argumentatively.
Photo: Marko Geber/Getty Images

The increases are partially explained by processing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But perhaps it’s more reasonable to assume that being in lockdown together made partners realize they couldn’t actually stand each other. The most common reason for people petitioning for divorce in 2021 was cited as ‘unreasonable behavior’.

Despite its commonality, divorce still has the centuries-old stigma of failure and something to be embarrassed about. The brunt of this is carried by women; many report being judged and excluded by others post-divorce.

The 1969 Divorce Reform Act allows couples in the UK to divorce after two years of separation if both parties agree and after five years if only one party agrees. You can file with your partner’s consent (joint application) or without (sole application).

That said, divorce laws differ slightly across the UK. It’s further complicated when you file for a divorce from abroad.

Divorce laws in England and Wales

To get a divorce in England or Wales, you must be married or have been in a civil partnership for at least one year. Since the enactment of the 2020 Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Act in 2022, couples no longer need to give a reason for a divorce or dissolution – this is sometimes called ‘no fault’.

Divorce laws in Northern Ireland

Couples must be married or have been in a civil partnership for at least two years before they can file for divorce in Northern Ireland. They must also cite a ground for the breakdown of the relationship:

  • Adultery or cheating
  • Desertion
  • Prolonged separation (two years of separation if both spouses agree, five years if only one agrees)
  • Unreasonable behavior

Divorce laws in Scotland

Scotland allows you to file for divorce or dissolution within the first year of marriage or civil partnership. You or your spouse must have resided in Scotland for the year preceding the divorce, or you must consider the country your principal place of residence.

Person is opening a window to give a better view of the town of Oban, Scotland.
Oban, Scotland (Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images)

Similarly to Northern Ireland, you must prove that your relationship has broken down irretrievably due to:

  • Adultery or cheating
  • Prolonged separation (one year of separation if both spouses agree, two years if only one agrees)
  • One of you has applied for an interim Gender Recognition Certificate
  • Unreasonable behavior

What to do if your visa depends on your relationship

If you are in the UK on a family or spouse visa, you’ll need to inform the Home Office of your (intended) divorce. Once it is finalized, you will either need to apply for a new visa or leave the country entirely.

You may be eligible for an indefinite leave to remain (also known as a settlement) if you’re a survivor of domestic violence or abuse, or you’ve lived in the UK for 10 years.

How to get a divorce in the UK: step by step

Divorce process in England and Wales

You can file for divorce online or by post using application form D8. You must provide your:

  • Full name and current address
  • Spouse’s full name and current address (or last known address if you don’t know their whereabouts)
  • Original marriage certificate or a certified copy
  • If necessary, a certified translation of your marriage certificate
  • If necessary, proof of name change

If you filed a sole application, your ex-partner has 14 days to respond to the divorce petition:

  • They agree – the divorce will go ahead
  • They dispute the divorce – there will be a court hearing where they must present their legal reasoning. You both have to attend and come to an agreement.
  • They fail to respond – the court will decide the next steps

If your spouse agrees to the divorce, you must apply for a decree nisi (conditional order), at least 20 weeks after the application.

Two people signing divorce papers in the presence of a lawyer.
Photo: mixetto/Getty Images

Then, to finalize the divorce, you must apply for a decree absolute (final order). You can do so 43 days after you’ve been granted the decree nisi (but no longer than 12 months). If you fail to petition for a decree absolute, your ex-partner can request one after at least three months, six weeks, and one day.

Divorce process in Northern Ireland

You can file for divorce at the Matrimonial Office in Belfast, UK. In the petition, you’ll be known as the petitioner and your spouse as the respondent. You’ll need to provide:

  • Your marriage certificate
  • An M6 Acknowledgment of Service form
  • Birth certificates of any child(ren) under 18
  • Any agreements you wish to be made by the rule of court
  • Any previous court orders about your marriage
  • Any other necessary documentation
  • If necessary, a certified translation of documents not originally in English or Irish

After the documents have been processed, the court will send you a certified copy of your petition. You can then serve the respondent with a copy of the petition. 

Next, you and your future ex-spouse will be given a court date. If your ex agrees with the divorce, the case will be heard at the same court where you filed. If they disagree or dispute the divorce, it will be heard by the High Court. In that case, you should absolutely contact a lawyer. You may be asked to give evidence and be cross-examined.

When the judge agrees that you’re irreconcilable, they will grant you a decree nisi. At least six weeks and one day after that, you can apply for a decree absolute (or conditional order made final). You can do so at the court where your divorce case was heard. If you fail to request one, your ex-partner can apply for it after three months, six weeks, and one day – but only with permission from the court.

Divorce process in Scotland

There are two ways to file for divorce in Scotland: a simplified do-it-yourself (DIY) petition or a non-simplified ordinary petition. You can only use the simplified DIY divorce procedure if:

  • Your marriage has irretrievably broken down because of separation or an interim gender recognition certificate
  • There are no children of the marriage under the age of 16
  • There are no financial matters to sort out (e.g., spousal alimony)
  • There are no signs that you or your ex are unable to manage your affairs due to mental illness, personality disorder, or learning disability
  • There are no other court proceedings under way which might result in the end of your marriage

It’s important to note that the simplified procedure is only for non-disputed divorces. If your ex-partner contests the divorce, the application will be stopped.

Man and woman walking side by side.
Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Simplified DIY divorce procedure

You can file for divorce at the local sheriff court, using one of the appropriate forms. Documents you’ll need to provide include:

  • Completed application form
  • An affidavit, signed and certified by a notary
  • Your marriage certificate
  • If possible, a written letter of consent from your spouse
  • If you’ve been separated for at least two years, or an interim gender recognition certificate was issued, an Official Extract from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) stating your marriage has not been dissolved
  • If an interim gender recognition certificate was issued, the official certificate or a copy certified by the Gender Recognition Panel
  • If necessary, certified translations of documents not originally in English or Scottish

You should hear whether your application was successful after two months (or more if your ex lives abroad). If it was rejected, you can proceed with an ordinary divorce.

Ordinary (non-simplified) divorce procedure

If you are filing for an ordinary divorce, it is strongly advised you hire a lawyer to represent you in court. There is no set application form; instead, divorce proceedings begin with an initial writ in the local sheriff court and a summons in the Court of Session.

The process can take up to six months if you both agree, and there are no issues regarding your children (if you have them) or alimony. If you or your spouse cannot come to an agreement, you (or they) must file a Notice of Intention to Defend. You’ll then be granted a court hearing before a judge.

Once the court proceedings are settled, you’ll receive an extract decree of divorce, which makes it final.

Dissolving a civil partnership in the UK

The procedures to dissolve your civil partnership are the same as described above. The only differences are that you do not have to provide a marriage certificate, but a civil partnership certificate instead.

Cost of divorce or dissolution in the UK

Divorce and dissolution costs differ greatly per country, and whether you file a sole or joint application.

Couple arguing at home, one partner is in his underwear.
Photo: Drazen_/Getty Images

Average costs are:

  • England and Wales – £593 application fee, up to £1,500 for legal support in an uncontested divorce, and up to £30,000 in a contested divorce
  • Northern Ireland – £261 application fee, £327 in the County Court or £392 in the High Court, plus up to £400 for legal support
  • Scotland – £134 for a simplified DIY divorce or £138 for the initial write in an ordinary divorce, plus £251 per day or half day in court

If you cannot afford a divorce or dissolution in the UK, there might be help you can access. There are different types of support for England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

Things to consider when getting a divorce

Child custody and child support

If you have children, it’s important to make a co-parenting plan with arrangements for child custody, support, and visitation rights. If you can’t agree on something reasonable, you can ask a mediator for advice or let the court decide for you.

Visit the website of the government in the UKScotland, or Northern Ireland for more information.

Property division

Property relates to any assets (including pensions, savings, and investments) held by you and your spouse. You can agree to split your property among yourself (with or without a mediator) or have the courts decide for you.

Spousal alimony

If you or your spouse earns a higher income, the court can decide to grant spousal alimony. In the UK, this is called maintenance payments. This means that the person with the higher income is required to make regular payments to the ex-spouse to help with living costs.

A maintenance order can be set for a limited period of time, or until one of you dies, remarries, or enters into a new civil partnership. The alimony payments can also be changed if one of you loses a job or gets a higher income.

If you want the maintenance payments reduced or stopped entirely, you can apply to the court.

Alternatives to getting a divorce in the UK

How to get an annulment

In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, you can annul a marriage at any stage after a wedding. To do so you will need to prove that the marriage was void or defective.

Man looking at his phone while his wife is sleeping next to him in the bed.
Photo: 10’000 Hours/Getty Images

For example, you can file for annulment when:

  • You are closely related
  • One or both of you were under 18 when you entered the marriage (or under 16 if the marriage took place before 27 February 2023)
  • One or both of you were already married or in a civil partnership
  • Your marriage wasn’t consummated
  • You didn’t properly consent to your marriage
  • The other person had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) when you got married
  • Your spouse was pregnant by someone else when you got married
  • One spouse is in the process of transitioning to another gender

Annulments cost £593 and financial support is available if you are on benefits or low income. You can file for it online or by post.

How to declare your marriage void

Scottish law does not allow marriages to be annulled. Instead, the courts can declare your marriage to be void, which means it never existed in the first place.

You can ask the courts to expunge your marriage from the records when:

  • You are too closely related
  • One or both of you were under 16 when you entered the marriage
  • One or both of you were already married or in a civil partnership
  • One or both of you didn’t and couldn’t properly consent (e.g., because of mental illness)
  • One or both of you were forced to marry
  • Your marriage is a sham (e.g., to illegally obtain citizenship)

Due to its irregularity, it is unclear what the costs are, but you can apply for it at the Court of Session.

Useful resources