Updated January 2019.
Elise Alma, Partner in the Coodes Solicitors Family team, explains the five stages a couple needs to go through to get divorced.
The divorce process starts with one party sending their Petition to the court. To maintain good relations, it is usually a good idea for the other spouse to have sight of a copy of the divorce petition before it is sent to the court. Once the petition has been sent to the court it will be given a case number and copies will be sent to the other party. This is known as issuing. Generally speaking it takes two to three weeks for the court to issue the divorce papers and send them out.
Once the other spouse receives the papers they must then respond to them by filling in a form called an ‘Acknowledgement of service’. This form usually needs to be returned to the Court within seven days of receiving the papers and will confirm whether or not the respondent agrees to the petition continuing, their position regarding any claim for costs and the arrangements as set out for the children, if applicable.
If the Acknowledgment of Service is not returned, the petitioner needs to prove to the Court that the respondent has received the documentation. A process server may need to be instructed to hand the papers to the respondent personally. The process server will charge a fee for this. In some circumstances a Court Bailiff can deal with this. The Court Bailiff will need a written description or photograph of the respondent and there may be a fee to pay. If the petitioner can prove the “respondent has received the petition e.g. the respondent has written to her about it, the petitioner can avoid using the bailiff and ask the court to agree that the respondent has received the documentation. This is known as deemed service.
Once the acknowledgment of service has been returned to the Court and sent to the petitioner, or if the petitioner can prove that the respondent has received the documents, the petitioner can then apply for Decree Nisi. This is the procedure by which the District Judge is asked to consider the petition and other papers and decide whether or not the petitioner is entitled to a divorce. To apply for Decree Nisi the petitioner needs to complete an application form and a statement confirming the contents of the petition are true.
The District Judge will consider the divorce papers and if satisfied that everything is in order and the petitioner is entitled to a divorce the Judge will issue a Certificate confirming this. The Certificate will confirm the time, date and place when Decree Nisi will be pronounced. Unless there is a dispute concerning the issue of costs it will not be necessary for either the petitioner or respondent to attend Court on the pronouncement.
Once the Decree Nisi has been pronounced we will receive the Order from the Court. The Decree Nisi is the first decree in the divorce proceedings which confirms that the Court considers that the petitioner is entitled to a divorce but it is not until Decree Absolute is pronounced that the divorce is finalised and you are no longer married.
Six weeks and one day from the date Decree Nisi is pronounced the petitioner can apply for the Decree Nisi to be made Absolute to finalise the divorce proceedings. If the petitioner does not apply the respondent must wait a further three months before he or she can apply to the Court.
If the respondent applies for the Decree Nisi to be made Absolute they have to give the petitioner notice of this and the Court will list the matter for a short hearing so that any objections can be taken into account before the Judge makes a decision about pronouncing Decree Absolute.
From start to finish the divorce process can take between four and six months, depending on the issues involved. If one of the parties decides not to cooperate or there are complicated financial issues it can take much longer to finalise matters.
For an explanation of the legal terminology, see our article ‘Demystifying divorce’.