How do I apply for a divorce?
To apply for a divorce, you must have been married for at least a year. It doesn’t matter where in the world you were married, but you can only apply for a divorce in England and Wales if either you or your spouse meet certain residence conditions or are domiciled here. You should speak to your family lawyer about this if you are in any doubt.
The divorce process is generally administrative. This means that usually neither of you will need to see a judge to get a divorce as it is almost always agreed by a judge on the paperwork. The process is simple as long as your spouse does not ask the court not to grant your divorce. When this happens, it is called a defended divorce and is a different process, but defended divorces are costly and thankfully very rare.
If you and your spouse are not in agreement regarding arrangements for children and finances these will be dealt with separately (but at the same time) from the divorce process.
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Starting divorce proceedings
The document that starts the divorce is called a petition. The law in this country still requires one spouse to petition against the other, even if both of you agree that there should be a divorce. Your family lawyer will need to have your original (or an official copy) marriage certificate to file the petition and also an approved translation of what it says if it is in a language other than English. There is a court fee payable of £410 to start the process (this includes the fee for the decree absolute).
To start a divorce, you (or your family lawyer, on your behalf) must file a petition at court. The petition is a form that gives the court information about you and your spouse, and tells the court that you feel your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You must briefly set out evidence that your marriage has broken down by supplying certain details in one of the following five categories:
- that your spouse has committed adultery
- that your spouse has behaved unreasonably
- that your spouse has deserted you for two years
- that you have lived apart for two years and your spouse consents to the divorce, or
- that you have lived apart for five years
The person starting the divorce is called the petitioner and the other spouse is called the respondent.
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Children and finances
For the purposes of any financial or children arrangements that need to be made, it doesn’t matter in most cases who starts the divorce and why. You can ask the court to make orders about money and about children if necessary during (or after) the divorce, but these legal processes are completely separate from the divorce itself. (This guide only deals with the divorce procedure; see our guides to arrangements for children and financial arrangements for more information on these areas.)
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Agreeing the contents of the petition
The Law Society says that a family lawyer acting for someone who wants a divorce should usually send a draft copy of the divorce petition to the other spouse at least seven days before it is filed at court. This gives the other spouse the opportunity to obtain legal advice and to raise an objection if there is anything in the petition that they find particularly offensive. It tends to be better to agree what is in the divorce petition if possible, as disputes about what goes in can have implications for the smooth progress of the rest of the divorce arrangements.
If your spouse has committed adultery it is technically possible to name the person with whom they committed adultery as a co-respondent in the divorce. However, we do not recommend that you do so unless you believe that your spouse is likely to defend the proceedings. In our experience, naming a third party in divorce papers raises the emotional temperature between you and may make it more difficult to agree arrangements in other areas, increasing your stress levels and legal costs as a result.
Filing the petition
The petition is filed at court with the court fee and your original (or an official copy) marriage certificate.
Serving the divorce papers
The court, or your family lawyer, sends the petition out to (‘serves’) the respondent together with a form for them to fill in called the acknowledgement of service. In this form the respondent has to say whether or not they intend to defend the divorce. The form has to be returned to the court. If the respondent has no intention to defend the divorce that is the end of their part in the process and all further steps are taken by the petitioner at their own pace.
Applying for the decree nisi
The next step is for the petitioner to complete a statement in support of the petition. This is another form that states that the contents of the divorce petition are true and asks for certain technical legal details such as whether you have lived in the same household since a certain relevant date. Your family lawyer will then file it at court with your application for a decree nisi. The decree nisi is the second-to-last phase of the divorce. It means the court has agreed that you are entitled to a divorce, but has not yet made it final. After the court has received your application for decree nisi, a judge will look at your papers to make sure they fulfil the legal criteria and if they do the court will issue a certificate telling you when the decree nisi will be pronounced.
Decree nisi is pronounced in open court. This means the judge reads out a list of names of people whose divorces have got to this stage, this week. Although anyone can go along if they want to, you do not have to attend court when this happens. At any time after decree nisi, the court is able to make a binding financial order setting out your arrangements for finances and property on divorce, either by consent or as a result of separate court proceedings. It will not do so unless you ask it to or your separate financial court proceedings have come to a conclusion.
Finalising the divorce suit
Six weeks and one day after the grant of decree nisi, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute, which formally ends the marriage. Not everyone should apply for decree absolute as soon as it is available and you should make sure you have discussed whether you should do so with your family lawyer. It may not be sensible to apply immediately if, for example, financial arrangements are not yet settled. You should discuss your specific circumstances with your family lawyer as in some cases the grant of decree absolute will prevent certain types of financial claims being made. However, if the respondent is keen to end the marriage and the petitioner has not applied for the decree absolute, the respondent can ask the court for permission to do so after a certain period of time (about four-and-a-half months from decree nisi). The court will usually grant such an application unless there are particularly pressing reasons not to do so.
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How long will my divorce take?
If each step in the divorce is taken promptly and financial arrangements do not hold things up, the divorce process usually takes between four and six months.
Other arrangements in relation to finances and children may take longer to resolve.
Implications in relation to your Will
It’s important to note that divorce may mean that certain provisions in your Will do not work as you might have intended them to. You will need to make a new Will quickly after decree absolute (or in contemplation of divorce) to ensure your wishes are carried out in the event of your death.
We are a specialist team of British lawyers, advising expats worldwide on divorce and family law matters.
Partner - BarristerByron has been shortlisted as 'International Family Lawyer of the Year' within Jordan's prestigious Family Law awards, to be held in London in November. Byron is ranked in both the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners as a leading barrister in divorce and matrimonial finance. He has been noted in the Legal 500 for his 'first-rate legal knowledge', for his especial expertise on trusts and cohabitation issues and also for his 'robust style which clients love'. In Chambers and Partners he has recently been described as 'a very intelligent and talented advocate' who always 'goes the extra mile for his clients'. It is considered in the directory that 'he will go on to achieve great things'. Byron is a family law specialist. His work covers the range of private client situations, but his particular expertise is in matrimonial finance cases. His broader practice encompasses Inheritance Act cases, disputes about children, proceedings where there are insolvency issues, cohabitation disputes and trusts. Byron appears as an advocate in courts from the County Court through to the Court of Appeal. He is frequently retained in an advisory capacity, especially with regard to Inheritance Act and Trust of Land matters. He recognises different people assimilate information in different ways: some clients want an issue dissected in a written opinion; others prefer the interaction that comes from a face-to-face conference. For Byron, the approach taken is always client-led – it is the one with which his client is most at ease, which best helps them take control of their case and feel empowered in working towards its resolution. Byron has been seconded by Expatriate Law to work within Al Rowaad Advocates in Dubai, where he will advise British expatriates in the region.(+44) 20 3096 7169
Solicitor and Mediator (England & Wales)Hero was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales in 2000. Hero has previously worked as a family lawyer at Dawsons and KSB law based in Lincoln’s Inn, London. Her experience includes high net worth financial settlements on divorce, child arrangement matters, child abduction and jurisdiction disputes. She has successfully represented a number of clients in applications for the relocation of children. Hero has particular experience in applications for financial provision for children of unmarried families, where the father is British. Having lived in Brazil for a number of years, Hero is now based in London and advises British expatriates in the region on all aspects of family law. Hero is able to offer rounded family law advice on the pros and cons of English and Brazilian jurisdictions for divorce and other family law applications, by working closely with specialist Brazilian family lawyers. A qualified family mediator, Hero’s clients appreciate her conciliatory approach to resolving family disputes, while constantly striving for the best possible outcome for her client. Hero also conducts family mediations via video conference which can work well when one or both parties are based abroad. For further information about mediation or for international family law advice, please contact Hero by emailing her at [email protected].(+44) 20 3096 7169
Associate SolicitorAfter obtaining a Bachelors and Masters degree at university, Sophie went on to obtain a distinction in family law at the College of Law in London. Sophie trained at and worked for Goodman Ray Solicitors, a niche specialist family law firm in London, for five years before joining Expatriate Law in Dubai. Continue reading....(+44) 20 3096 7169
Partner - Solicitor (England & Wales)Alexandra has been accredited by Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association ) as a specialist in International Family Law and Advanced Financial Provision. Alexandra has solely practised in family law since being admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales in 2004. She specialises in divorces with an international element and ancillary relief (financial settlements on divorce). Continue reading....(+44) 20 3096 7169
Partner - Solicitor (England & Wales)Sonny qualified to practice as a solicitor in England & Wales in 2006. Before joining Expatriate Law in 2014, Sonny trained and practised exclusively in Legal 500 rated central London law firms where he consistently achieved outstanding results for his clientele of professionals and entrepreneurs. Sonny has 12 years’ experience working with (or successfully acting against) the leading lawyers in London’s best family law teams. Although based in central London throughout the earlier years of his career, Sonny was instructed by clients who instructed him remotely from locations around the world. It was Sonny’s record of success in contested jurisdiction cases and his interest in cross-border family law which led to him joining Expatriate Law. From 2014 to 2016 Sonny was seconded by Expatriate Law to work within Al Rowaad Advocates in Dubai. During that time Sonny worked closely with local UAE lawyers and Advocates and advised British expats in respect of the interaction between English law and UAE law. Sonny is currently based in the London office of Expatriate Law where he acts for British expatriates worldwide and conducts their family proceedings through the English courts. Throughout his career, Sonny has represented clients based in or with financial interests or connections to UK, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Canada, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Dubai, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Luxembourg, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa and USA. Sonny has extensive experience dealing with the following matters: high net worth divorces, jurisdiction – domicile of origin and the acquisition or loss of a domicile of choice, choice of forum , financial provision after overseas divorce, recognition of foreign marriages and divorces, cross-border enforcement of financial orders, negotiating and drafting multiple jurisdiction prenuptial postnuptial and separation agreements, the relocation of children across international borders. Sonny is a solutions-driven negotiator and is highly motivated by a desire to help his clients emerge from the legal process with their finances and their dignity intact – particularly where there are children involved. However, if reasonable agreement cannot be reached Sonny has extensive experience of conducting litigation in the London courts.(+44) 20 3096 7169
Senior ConsultantDavid is a highly experienced litigation lawyer, having qualified as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales in 1986. He has run his own successful and busy London litigation practice for 21 years. David was formerly a member of the Law Society Family Law panel and spent many years in the accountancy profession before entering the law. Continue reading....(+44) 20 3096 7169
Associate SolicitorLauren was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales in 2008 and has worked as a family lawyer in London, Johannesburg and Dubai. She has significant experience dealing with expatriate family law matters particularly those involving English and South African law issues and is now based in London. Lauren originally qualified as a corporate lawyer at the international law firm SJ Berwin LLP, before deciding to pursue a career in family law. In November 2009 she joined Camilla Baldwin, a specialist family law firm, where she worked until she moved to South Africa in December 2012. During her time at Camilla Baldwin, Lauren managed her own cases and developed expertise in areas including financial settlements on divorce, financial provision for children of unmarried families and child arrangement matters including the relocation of children. In May 2013 Lauren joined Clarks Attorneys, a leading family law firm in South Africa, as an international legal consultant. While working for Clarks Attorneys, Lauren gained considerable experience in South African family law, acting on a range of cases with different matrimonial property systems as well as on a range of children matters, the majority of which had an international element. She acted for South Africans, expatriates living in South Africa, as well as for English and South Africa clients living in the UK with reason to pursue matters through the South African courts. She also founded and managed the Johannesburg Family Law Conference in its first few years. The Johannesburg conference is now in its fifth year, attracting attendees from all over South Africa as well as high profile international speakers. In February 2016 Lauren moved to Dubai, where she continued to consult for Clark s Attorneys, before returning to England in May 2017. Lauren is passionate about family law and strives to go the extra mile for her clients. For matters involving British expatriates in South Africa or South African expatriates in England or for any other enquiry, please contact Lauren by emailing her at [email protected]. Lauren is able to offer rounded family law advice on the pros and cons of English and South African jurisdictions for divorce and other family law applications, and if necessary will work closely with specialist South African family lawyers.(+44) 20 3096 7169