To start divorce proceedings, you (the Petitioner) have to issue a petition to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. This incurs a fixed charge of £550, payable by you to the court. You may qualify for a court fee exemption, if you are on a low income or receiving benefits. Basically, in this step you initiate proceedings by ‘applying’ to the court for a divorce, which entails giving details relating to you and your spouse as well as your marriage, the reason why you want the divorce and relevant information regarding court proceedings and any children you may have. In signing and sending this petition you essentially ‘pray’ that the court processes your divorce.
The court goes through the petition to ensure you have provided the necessary information before sending it on to your spouse (the Respondent). If you do not provide the information required by the court, it is likely that they will deem the petition as unacceptable. For example, in order to divorce in the UK, it is required that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, and for this reason you are duty-bound to claim that there is reason to believe this by specifying a reason for divorce.
Having received the petition forwarded by the court detailing the divorce, along with an ‘acknowledgement of service’ document, your spouse is then required to complete the acknowledgement of service form and send this to the court. This states their consent to divorce proceedings. In the rare event that they do not agree with the petition or to certain aspects of it, there can be delays to the divorce. Therefore, it is not only essential that the information supplied is accurate and true to the knowledge of both parties involved but also that you agree on divorce proceedings.
Upon the Respondent’s acknowledgement of divorce proceedings, you are then obligated to provide a ‘statement in support of divorce’ and to apply for the ‘decree nisi’. In the statement in support of divorce, you clarify and explain the ’reason’ for the divorce. This reason is proof that there are ‘grounds for divorce’, in other words, there is a genuine reason(s) for the court to legally approve and authorise the divorce. The decree nisi is the legal term for an order from a court of law stating an intent to end the marriage ‘unless’ a reason not to grant the divorce is produced (nisi being the Latin term for ‘unless’).
All being well, the court will accept the grounds for divorce on which you have applied and you will obtain the decree nisi. Once received, you must then wait for a period of at least 6 weeks and 1 day before you are able to apply for the ‘decree absolute’. This waiting period is standard legal procedure and was traditionally put in place in the event that applicants would change their minds and/or to give them an interim period during which important issues surrounding finances and children could be resolved. These can be seen as ’conditions’ that need to be fulfilled before applying to make the decree nisi, absolute.
Much in the same way as you apply for the decree nisi, you apply for the decree to be made absolute, which, unlike the nisi, legally terminates your marriage. That is to say you have fulfilled all of the conditions of the decree nisi and are therefore able to request that the court issues you and your spouse this legal documentation. In the event that your spouse started divorce proceedings, in other words you are not the Petitioner, but for whatever reason he/she is yet to apply for the decree nisi to be made absolute, as the Respondent you are permitted to do so, but after waiting a period of 3 months on top of the standard period of 6 weeks and 1 day described above.
Having made your application, you should thereafter receive the decree absolute, and your marriage will be legally ended. There is no specified time-frame by which the parties divorcing will receive this, and much will depend on the workload being experienced at the specific court or divorce centre dealing with your case, but from the date of applying for the decree absolute it is often received within 2 weeks. The court will send both you and your spouse a copy of the decree absolute. Once you have received it, you are officially divorced and both legally free to marry again, if you wish to.