If you are considering a divorce, are already separated and thinking about your next move, or are partway through the process and need some guidance, the divorce solicitors at JMW can help. We understand that getting divorced is about so much more than sorting out the paperwork to bring your marriage to an end. It is about your home, your family, your choices, and your future.
We support our clients throughout the process and are always on their side. Right from the start, we will work with you to identify the key issues and the best way to resolve them - whether that means arrangements for the children, joint assets or anything else you may be concerned about. Our team is experienced in all areas of family law and we understand the sensitivity that is required to effectively deal with such issues. We can help to facilitate the legal process for your divorce and can proceed with seeking financial settlement if applicable.
Ending Your Marriage
If you have been married for one year or longer, you can get a divorce by showing that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.
For divorces starting before 6 April 2022, this is legally proven by basing the application upon one of five factors:
- Two years of separation, plus the consent of both parties
- Five years of separation (consent not required)
For divorces starting on or after 6 April 2022, the application is not based on one of these legal facts. One or both parties (either on their own behalf or via their solicitors) can make a simple statement in a form - usually online - that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, without giving any further details. This is often referred to as ‘no fault divorce’.
Obtaining a divorce is a relatively straightforward process. Although the court has to grant the divorce, only a tiny minority of couples will actually need to appear in front of a judge in relation to this aspect of their case. This number has reduced even further with the introduction of no-fault divorce because the grounds for disputing a no fault divorce are very limited.
Our divorce solicitors are committed to establishing a close working relationship with you, your advisors and supporters. We are realists and will never build unachievable expectations only to let you down. Instead, we will communicate clearly, and always make sure you understand the potential consequences before you take action.
Over the years, we have forged strong relationships with other professionals that you may need to work with, including the very best therapists, wealth planners, tax advisors and accountants, so that we can build a great team around you.
Do I Need a Solicitor for a Divorce?
While it's technically possible to go it alone, it can be beneficial having an expert family lawyer by your side. Navigating the complex landscape of divorce without legal guidance can be both legally risky and emotionally draining.
Divorce law can be complicated, especially if you have assets and finances to divide. One of the most critical aspects of any divorce is ensuring that any financial agreement made following the divorce is one that properly meets your needs, ensures that your financial future is secure and that all assets and liabilities are properly shared between you and your ex-partner.
When it comes to sharing ownership of assets, things can quickly become complicated, especially if you or your spouse holds significant property, savings or investments. If offshore assets or complex financial portfolios are involved, you'll benefit from legal expertise. A solicitor can clarify your rights and responsibilities, helping you to understand what you're entitled to. Similarly, issues surrounding arrangements for children and maintenance require a delicate touch, and a solicitor can help you arrive at a place that's in the best interests of your children.
There may be reasons why a marriage is either void or voidable. In this instance, the parties need to apply for a nullity order (sometimes called an annulment), rather than a divorce.
A marriage is void if it was legally flawed from the start, for example, if one or both parties were underage or were already married to another person. A marriage is voidable if there is a reason entitling either party to apply for an annulment, for example, if it was a forced marriage or if the marriage has not been consummated.
Nullity proceedings can be started at any point, including in the first year of marriage. However, the grounds for obtaining an annulment are complex and technically specific, so it is absolutely crucial to get early advice from a solicitor with experience in this area, especially if there is an international dimension.
If you have a religious or other objection to divorce, it is possible to obtain a judicial separation order instead. Applications for judicial separation are very unusual and legal advice should be sought, as the financial and legal implications differ from those associated with divorce in important aspects.
If you have children, it is important to establish workable, child-focused arrangements for them after separation. We will help you assess what steps you need to take to make this happen. For more information, visit our Children section.
We will put our expertise and resources at your disposal to achieve the best possible resolution of the financial aspects of your divorce. For more detail, visit our Money section.
Jurisdiction and International Families
If you or your spouse has links with one or more territories outside England and Wales, there may be a choice as to which country’s courts should deal with the divorce. In that event, it’s essential that you act urgently to take our advice so that we can guide you to secure the most favourable jurisdiction for your case.
The law in relation to divorce, particularly the financial aspects, differs greatly from country to country and can have a big impact on the outcome. We have close links with solicitors across the world and can work with them to ensure you have clear and decisive advice to enable you to conclude how best to proceed. Visit our jurisdiction page for more information.
What Is the Process of a Divorce?
The divorce process can be different depending on the nature of your circumstances, but you can typically expect it to follow these steps:
- Filing for divorce: the party seeking the divorce files a divorce application to the court. This can be done by one party or both parties together.
- Acknowledgment of service: if the divorce application has been made by one party, the other party receives the divorce papers and must acknowledge them, indicating whether they intend to agree to or contest the divorce.
- Conditional Order (formerly known as Decree Nisi): assuming the divorce applicatoin is not contested, the court grants a Conditional Order, which is the mid-point of the divorce. As this stage, you are still legally married, but the court recognises that you are entitled to a divorce.
- Financial settlement: this can be done once the divorce proceedings have been finalised although most parties choose to negotiate alongside their divorce. During the process, both parties disclose their financial assets. Negotiations take place, often with the assistance of solicitors, to reach a fair division of assets. This can involve court hearings if an agreement can't bereached. The court can only approve a financial order once the conditional order in the divorce has been obtained.
- Final Order (formerly known as Decree absolute): after a minimum of six weeks and one day from the date of the conditional order, the applicant can apply for a Final Order. This legally dissolves the marriage.
- Post-divorce formalities: even after the Final Order, there may be ongoing legal considerations such as child arrangements, spousal maintenance and the implementation of financial agreements.
Each case is unique, so these steps can vary in complexity and duration. Our expert divorce lawyers can guide you through the entire divorce process and see that your goals are met.
How Long Will the Divorce Process Take?
The duration of the divorce process depends on how complex the case is, how amicable the separation is and how much the court will need to be involved. A straightforward divorce, where both parties agree on all matters, can be finalised within four to six months. However, if there are contested issues, especially involving finances or arrangements for children, the process can take considerably longer, sometimes over a year. It's also worth noting that certain aspects of the process, like financial settlements and Consent Orders, may extend beyond the Final Order that legally ends the marriage.
Why Choose JMW?
The professional divorce solicitors at JMW are experienced in family law and will work efficiently to ensure that your divorce goes smoothly, causing minimal stress to you. We will take the bulk of the legal responsibility so you can focus on ordering the other aspects of your life. Throughout the process, we will maintain transparency with you so you can keep up to date with the process, and we will explain everything to you in jargon-free language.
Our firm has worked in the area of divorce law for a long time, and our successes have contributed towards our recognition as a top firm by the Legal 500. Read about our family law successes here.
Our firm has worked in the area of divorce law for a long time, and our successes have contributed towards our recognition as a top firm by the Legal 500.
Browse our accreditations page to learn more about why you can trust JMW's divorce and family law services.
FAQs About Divorce Proceedings
Does the reason for the divorce have any effect on the financial settlement?
In all but the most extreme cases, the reasons why your marriage broke down will have no effect on the financial outcome. Money is dealt with on a largely ‘no fault’ basis. There are exceptions in circumstances where misconduct has been very extreme or has led to an objectively significant financial consequence.
I have been served with divorce papers and/or received notice of proceedings by email from the court. What should I do next?
There are time limits for responding to an application for a divorce, which should be complied with. In some cases - for example, if there is a choice of jurisdictions in which the divorce could take place - these time limits can be crucially important. If you have received divorce papers or been served with an application by email, get in touch with JMW and we will work with you to identify the next steps.
What is a decree nisi?
This is the term for the first of two decrees (a kind of court order) in the proceedings. For divorces starting on or after 6 April 2022, the equivalent order is called a conditional order. If your divorce proceedings started before this date, it will still be called a decree nisi.
To apply for a decree nisi or conditional order, the person who began the divorce proceedings confirms the contents of their original application and asks the court to grant the decree/order. The main difference for divorces taking place under the new law is the addition of a 20-week waiting period between the date the divorce was issued (initiated by the court) and the application for conditional order. This period can be shortened in very exceptional circumstances.
Under the no fault divorce legislation, couples can apply for their divorce jointly and can also apply for a conditional order jointly. Options exist for situations where an application begins jointly but needs to continue with a sole applicant.
Provided all the forms are in order and no technical problems are identified, the court will set a date for ‘pronouncing’ the decree nisi or making the conditional order, which just means reading it out in court. In almost all cases, neither party has to be present for this.
Once decree nisi or conditional order has been granted, the court has the power to make a financial order dealing with the money, whether this has been reached by agreement or following a contested court process.
For more information on decree nisi and decree absolute, read our guide.
What is a decree absolute?
This is the term for the second of the two decrees (a kind of court order). For divorce proceedings starting before 6 April 2022, this term will continue to be used. For divorces beginning on or after that date, it is called a ‘final order’.
Once the decree nisi / conditional order has been granted, the person who began the divorce proceedings can apply for the decree absolute or final order six weeks and one day later. For divorces starting on or after 6 April 2022, this application can be made by the parties jointly if the applications for the divorce and conditional order were made jointly. Options exist for situations where it is no longer possible to proceed on a joint basis.
In most cases, clients will be advised to delay applying for decree absolute or final order until a separate court order dealing with the financial aspects of the divorce has been approved by the court.
Once the decree absolute or final order has been granted, the marriage comes to an end and the parties are said to be ‘divorced’.
For more information on decree nisi and decree absolute, read our guide.
Do I have to go to court to get a divorce
Only the court can grant divorces; however, in reality, the divorce process generally takes place online with electronic forms passing between the parties and the court. Only a tiny minority of cases need substantive input from a judge and very few couples actually have to attend court to deal with the divorce itself.
Can I reach a financial settlement without a divorce?
You can agree to the financial aspects of separation without getting divorced using a separation agreement but the only way to get a final and binding settlement is to obtain a financial court order after the decree nisi / conditional order has been granted within the divorce proceedings. This financial order can either be agreed by the parties or decided by a judge after a contested court process.
The court order must be approved by a judge otherwise it is not valid. It then becomes legally binding at the point of decree absolute or final order.
How long does a divorce or civil partnership dissolution take?
We normally anticipate that the procedure from application to decree absolute / final order will take just over six months. In most cases, clients are advised to delay the last step of decree absolute or final order until a financial order has been approved and stamped by the court. As financial negotiations and/or contested proceedings can take some time, particularly if a case is complex, the divorce will often take longer than six months.
Are divorce records public?
The decree absolute / final order is accessible to any member of the public, including the parties themselves.
The decree absolute or final order will record various details, including the parties’ full names, the date and place of their marriage ceremony and the date they were finally divorced. Documents from divorces that proceeded under the old law (pre-6 April 2022), showing the fact on which the divorce is based and further details, such as allegations of unreasonable behaviour, are not generally available.
If you have lost your decree absolute or final order and need to obtain an official copy, there are various ways of getting what you need, depending on what information you have. The best starting place is the government website.
Can a divorce be reversed?
In general, if a couple has been through divorce proceedings and obtained a decree absolute or final order, this cannot be reversed. The only way they can become married again is to have another official wedding ceremony.
If the decree absolute or final order has not yet been granted and the parties wish to halt the divorce process because they have reconciled, they can do so. There are various procedures, depending on what stage has been reached.
There are a tiny handful of cases in which the court can set aside (cancel, overturn) a decree nisi or conditional order, and even a decree absolute or final order for other reasons. This includes cases where orders have been obtained by fraud, where there are doubts over the existence of the marriage in the first place or an argument that the marriage has already been brought to an end in another country.
Can a divorce petition or application be withdrawn?
It depends on what stage in the divorce process has been reached and the reasons for withdrawing it.
If a person has started divorce proceedings and simply changed their mind, they can stop the process up to the point of decree nisi or conditional order. However, to ensure clarity for everyone involved, it would be sensible to take legal advice to make sure that all the correct steps have been taken. This would avoid any future doubt over either party’s marital status. Couples who have gotten back together after a decree nisi or conditional order has been granted can apply to undo it. If a decree absolute or final order has been granted then it is not possible to undo it, unless there has been a serious legal problem with the original process.
If someone has sent a divorce application to court and wishes to change its contents, rather than halt the proceedings altogether, they can do so, provided no application for a decree nisi or conditional order has been made. They may or may not need the permission of the court to do this, depending on what steps in the proceedings have been taken by their spouse.
What is a co-respondent?
Under the law in force up to the end of 5 April 2022, a person starting divorce proceedings based on adultery technically had to ‘prove’ that the person against whom the allegation was made (the respondent) had actually had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex. That other person was known as a “co-respondent”.
In modern times, proof of adultery has almost always been obtained by the respondent completing the relevant section of the acknowledgement of service, without the “other person” being named in the paperwork. The co-respondent would then be listed as “Unnamed Man/Woman”.
Decades ago, the co-respondent was routinely named and the divorce papers were served upon them so that the allegation could be put to them formally. However, this practice became less and less common and the relevant rules actively discouraged petitioners from naming a co-respondent, unless they believed that the divorce would be contested. For this reason, divorce petitions with a named co-respondent were almost unheard of, long before no-fault divorce came into law.
For divorces starting on or after 6 April 2022, it is no longer an option to base the divorce on adultery or indeed any of the other facts (behaviour, desertion, two or five years’ separation). The only proof required is a simple statement by one or both parties that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Can I recover divorce costs?
This depends on whether your divorce proceedings started before or after 6 April 2022.
Divorces starting (issued) before 6 April 2022
If your divorce is based on one of the fault ‘facts’ (i.e. adultery, behaviour or desertion), you can claim the legal costs associated with the actual divorce, including the court fee. It makes sense for the parties to agree on a figure for costs because it is disproportionate to ask the court to make a decision on this relatively modest amount of money.
The claim for costs within the divorce petition can only include those associated with preparing and progressing the divorce itself. If the divorce is based upon separation, the parties generally pay their own costs.
Divorces starting (issued) on or after 6 April 2022
In keeping with the principles of no fault divorce, it is no longer the norm to apply for costs. In the overwhelming majority of cases, no order for costs will be made. That said, the parties can decide between themselves how to share the costs, including the court fee.
Cost orders will only be made in cases where one of the parties has handled the proceedings in an unreasonable way, for example by deliberately evading service. In the minority of cases where this is relevant, costs orders can also be made where either party is unsuccessful in a dispute about jurisdiction or the existence and validity of the marriage.
The person seeking a costs order must make a separate application explaining the reasons why they think a costs order should be made, ideally before the making of a conditional order but at the latest by the time of the final order.
In all cases
Legal costs incurred dealing with other issues, such as finances and child arrangements, are completely separate and the general rule is that each party pays their own costs. It is only in the more extreme cases that either party’s behaviour will have any impact on financial matters and/or child arrangements. For more information about the way in which “conduct” will be dealt with, read our article on the topic.