Briefing Note

Divorce – Frequently Asked Questions

Updated April 2023

Please note that this Briefing Note is not maintained, and reflects the law as at the date of publication or update


This guide sets out the framework of the divorce process, highlighting key areas and placing the various issues arising into a legal context. It serves as a general introduction. For specific advice tailored to your own circumstances you should consult a specialist family solicitor.

Can I start divorce proceedings?

Yes if,

  • You have been married for at least a year and either you or your spouse are habitually resident in England and Wales; or
  • You and/or your spouse have been resident in England or Wales for the preceding year. If this condition is not met, there are alternative provisions relating to “Domicile”. If you have not been married a year but believe your relationship has broken down, there are other options including Judicial Separation or a Separation Agreement.

What are the grounds for divorce?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, there is only one ground for divorce, namely “the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

Is there a standard form to commence proceedings?

Yes, the application for a divorce (formerly called a petition). The application is a standard document into which your individual details are inserted. The document will recite details of your marriage, confirm that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and will ask for dissolution of the marriage. The application may also include a request financial orders for you and any dependent children.

The application may be made by either of you, or both of you together.

Where are the proceedings commenced?

Divorce proceedings are issued out of The Family Court, and are dealt with electronically via the online Court Service portal.

Is the Divorce Application the only document filed?

The documents which must be filed, as prescribed by the Family Procedure Rules 2010, are:

• The Application
• A certified copy of your marriage certificate
• The appropriate Court Fee

How much will it cost?

At your first appointment, we will give you an estimate of the likely cost, including details of the way in which the charges are calculated. For the sake of clarity, you will receive written confirmation and, as the case progresses, regular updates. Such will enable you to be absolutely clear about your actual and anticipated costs.

At present, the Court Fee payable on filing the application is £593.

What if my husband/wife wants to defend the proceedings?

Divorces can only be disputed on very limited technical grounds which are highly unlikely to apply if in the majority of cases. There is no option to defend a divorce application.

However, a respondent to a divorce, or one of joint applicants, can apply to delay the final order of dissolution until financial issues have been resolved.

How long will it take?

The minimum length of time from presentation of the application to the final order of dissolution (formerly call a Decree Absolute) is 26 weeks.

We may, however, advise that you do not make application for a final order of dissolution until financial matters are resolved (any decision in relation to that will depend on your individual circumstances).

What if I change my mind?

You may stop the proceedings at any time before the final order is made. (If your spouse wants to proceed with them, however, they may be able to do so). In those circumstances we would normally recommend that the application is formally dismissed by the court.

Who will see the divorce papers?

Family cases are very rarely within the public domain. There are strict rules and guidelines prohibiting public and press access to court papers. The fact of the conditional order of dissolution and final order of dissolution can be reported but no details given.

Do I need orders in relation to the children?

Child Arrangement Orders which determine “with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact” and “when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person” can be sought under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 but only where there is a significant disagreement between you and your spouse.

Will I need to go to court?

The vast majority of divorce cases are undisputed and accordingly dealt with in the absence of the parties and advisers. If you have a dispute ancillary to the divorce (e.g. in connection with any child or financial matters) and proceedings are necessary, you will need to attend court hearings.

On final dissolution of the marriage, do I need to do anything else?

Not as far as the divorce itself is concerned. However, as part of the process, you should have considered revising the content of your will. If you intend to remarry for example you should be aware that such would automatically revoke your will.

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