Getting a divorce

Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership can be a difficult time. A family law solicitor will support you through the whole process, making it as simple and stress-free as possible by:

  • listening to you and discussing your options with you
  • telling you where you stand and what your rights are
  • helping you understand your ex-partner's rights
  • giving you trusted advice about your family, home and financial security

If you’ve been living together but are not married, a family solicitor can help you understand your rights if you break up.

If a divorce is against your religion, a solicitor can tell you about other forms of separation.

You can only get a divorce if all of the following apply to you:

  • your marriage is legally recognised in the UK
  • you’ve been married for at least a year
  • you have a permanent home in England or Wales

To end your marriage, you’ll need to show one of these five reasons:

  • unreasonable behaviour – anything your partner has done that makes you feel you cannot live with them anymore
  • your partner left you at least two years ago – known as ‘desertion’
  • your husband or wife has committed adultery (not applicable in a civil partnership)
  • you've lived apart from your partner for more than two years and they agree to the divorce
  • you’ve lived apart from your partner for more than five years (they do not need to agree to the divorce)

Civil partnerships

Civil partnerships are ended by a dissolution order. The process is the same as for a divorce, except that adultery cannot be a reason for dissolving a civil partnership. In a civil partnership, being unfaithful would be considered ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

A solicitor can help you throughout the divorce, and with related matters such as buying or selling property or writing a new will. But you do not have to use a solicitor for every stage of the divorce process if you do not want to or cannot afford to.

Getting legal advice early on can help you decide how much support you need, and at what stage in the process.

You should seek legal advice as soon as possible if you:

  • are at risk of domestic violence or being made homeless
  • are unsure what would be a fair settlement
  • have a lot of assets – for example, property or investments
  • are not being allowed enough access to your children by your ex-partner
  • are in a vulnerable financial position compared with your ex-partner
  • got married abroad, or you, your ex-partner or your children have non-UK nationality

Your solicitor will:

  • discuss your options, including dispute resolution such as mediation
  • explain the divorce process and what you need to do at each stage
  • start the divorce action for you by filing the necessary forms
  • help you reach an agreement with your ex-partner without having to go to court
  • provide help and support with related legal issues, such as where each person will live and who gets what, and future arrangements for any children

If you have to go to court, your solicitor will present your case, explain what you need to do and what the judge’s decision means for you.

If you’re at risk of domestic abuse, your solicitor will make it a priority to keep you (and any children) safe.

What will happen at your first appointment

Your solicitor will ask you some questions about your situation, including:

  • why you want a divorce
  • details of any problems, such as domestic abuse or adultery
  • whether you’re at risk (if your partner can be violent or abusive)
  • if any children are involved, and their current and future living arrangements

They may also ask to see documents such as your marriage certificate and passport.

This information will help your solicitor decide what grounds there might be for divorce, and to estimate how long it will take, costs and results. They can then discuss with you what would be best for you and any children involved.

You should research different solicitors before deciding which to choose. Find out their charges and how long they think the process will take.

Visit our Find a Solicitor website and use the quick search option ‘Family and relationships’ to find your nearest solicitor.

Look for someone who is a member of our Family Law, Family Law Advanced or Children Law accreditation schemes. These are quality marks showing that your solicitor will meet the high standards we set for family-related legal services.

Many solicitors charge a flat fee to complete a divorce, but this depends on the case. Your solicitor will give you an estimate of the total cost before you decide to hire them.

Legal aid is no longer available for most divorce cases, unless there are concerns of domestic abuse or violence. It’s still available for mediation.

The law puts the welfare of children before anything else. Your solicitor will help you wherever possible to reach an agreement with your ex-partner.

This might be about:

  • where the children live
  • how they’ll be provided for
  • how much contact they have with you and your ex-partner
  • how decisions will be taken in future about things such as holidays and schools

Whatever your circumstances, a family law solicitor has the knowledge and experience to make sure the decisions you make are in the best interests of your children, now and in the future.

Although you need a court order to get a divorce, you do not need to go to court to reach a settlement with your ex-partner about your children, home or money.

Mediation

One option is to go to mediation. In fact, a judge will expect you and your ex-partner to have at least found out about, and preferably tried, mediation before coming to them for a decision.

A mediator is trained in helping separating couples reach agreement even on difficult issues. They will not take sides but will listen to you both.

Your solicitor will be able to advise you and help you arrange a meeting with a mediator.

You might be able to get legal aid for family mediation.

Find out more about mediation

Arbitration

Arbitration is another way of resolving disputes without going to court. It applies the law in the same way as the Family Court but it can help you and your ex-partner resolve any disputes more quickly and affordably.

Both you and your ex-partner enter into an agreement with a suitably qualified person (an arbitrator). You are both legally bound by the arbitrator’s decision.

Arbitration can be used to resolve disputes about:

  • property and finance
  • child maintenance
  • living and contact arrangements for children
  • other arrangements for children, such as schooling

You can discuss this option with your solicitor, who will need to refer you to an arbitrator.

You and your ex-partner are entitled to independent legal advice throughout the process. Your solicitor can go with you to arbitration meetings if your ex-partner agrees.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill currently going through parliament is set to change the divorce process.

If the bill is made law, anyone will be able to apply for a divorce without having to provide evidence of one of the five reasons (see Reasons for divorce, above).

The bill will also:

  • remove the ability to contest the divorce
  • allow joint applications

No-fault divorce will reduce conflict, allowing couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.

These changes will also apply to civil partnerships.

You can apply for a divorce online on the GOV.UK website.

To apply, you’ll need:

  • your husband or wife’s full name and address
  • your original marriage certificate or a certified copy, together with a certified translation if it’s not in English
  • proof of your name change if you changed it since you got married – for example your marriage certificate or evidence that you changed it by deed poll

You must apply by post if you want to:

You’ll need to download and complete a divorce application form D8 from GOV.UK.

Cost

It costs £550 to apply online or by post.­

 

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