Divorce: a time of change

27th October 2022

Hand removing a wedding ring

Divorce was once described by author Ambrose Bierce as the “resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries.” April 6 2022 saw landmark reforms to the divorce “blame-game” with no-fault divorce being introduced. The hope being to remove the unnecessary finger-pointing and acrimony and for diplomacy and civility to reign.

The divorce process is, however, one of the most emotionally and financially traumatic things a person can go through. Deciding to divorce is the biggest step in any marriage, especially in relationships where children are involved.

My marriage has broken down, what are my options?

If your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you can commence “no-fault” divorce proceedings. Alternatively, if you are not sure that divorce is the right step at this point, then you can consider a separation agreement.

This can set out the arrangements you agree with your spouse in relation to finances, property and children before finalising arrangements in a divorce at a later stage.

How do I get a divorce?

The general rule is that you cannot get a divorce unless you have been married for over a year. To get a divorce, you will have to apply via the HMCTS online portal. You can either do this yourself, or you can instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf which means that they will oversee the divorce for you.

What should I consider when completing the application?

You will have to decide whether to apply as a sole or joint applicant.

As a sole applicant, the court will issue your application and then send your spouse a copy of your divorce application. Your spouse will be required to acknowledge proceedings and return this to the court within 14 days.

If you are applying as joint applicants, you will both be responsible for the application at each stage. The party who starts off the process will be Applicant 1 and the other will be Applicant 2. If for any reason the relationship between you both breaks down, or one party refuses to consent to applying for Conditional Order or Final Order (below) either party can apply to convert it to a sole application.

How much does an online divorce cost?

To file the divorce application, there is a standard court fee of £593. There may also be other unanticipated disbursements that may arise. For example, if your spouse fails to acknowledge your application, you may need to engage a process server.

If you have instructed a solicitor, you will also need to take their fees into account. Your solicitor should provide you with a quote of their fees before they start work.

You may be eligible for help with fees if for instance you are on benefits or a low income. You will be able to do this online via the website. Help with fees will only apply to the court fee.

What are the stages of an online divorce?

Application stage: The first stage is completing the divorce application. This is done via the online portal and usually, out of courtesy, a copy of the application is sent to your spouse notifying them of your intention to issue proceedings. Once issued, the court will send a copy to your spouse upon which they will be required, within 14 days, to acknowledge.

What happens if my spouse does not respond to the divorce?

If you are doing the divorce yourself, you can apply for a copy of the divorce papers to be served via court bailiff. You will need to contact the divorce unit about this.

If you have instructed a solicitor and your spouse has failed to respond, then there are various steps available to you. We can assist with this and guide you through your options, one of which will be instructing a process server to serve the divorce papers. There will be an associated fee for this.

Conditional Order: This is the second stage. Under the old divorce law, it used to be known as “Decree Nisi”. To apply for Conditional Order, there are two requirements that will need to be met. The first is that your spouse needs to have ‘acknowledged’ or responded to your application.

They will have 14 days to indicate whether they agree with the divorce or dispute it. Your spouse will need to have a genuine reason to dispute the divorce; it cannot simply be because they do not want a divorce or because they are trying to deliberately prolong the process.

The second requirement is that the minimum 20-week period needs to have been met. The 20-week period will start from the date the divorce application is issued.

The court will consider your application and determine whether you are entitled to a divorce. If you are, a Certificate of Entitlement will first be granted followed by Conditional Order.

Final Order: The last stage, known as “Final Order” (previously known as Decree Absolute), is where you will both be recognised as legally divorced from each other. You will be able to apply for Final Order six weeks and a day after the date that Conditional Order was pronounced.

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