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Divorce and Civil Dissolution

Legal definition of divorce

A divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage by the judgment of a court. You can apply for a divorce in England or Wales if you’ve been married at least a year and your relationship has irretrievably broken down, as long as your marriage is legally recognised in the UK and you have a permanent home in England or Wales.

The process

1. File a divorce petition

You must apply to the court for permission to divorce and give valid grounds for wanting  to end your marriage.

2. Decree nisi

If your spouse agrees to the petition, you’ll be granted a decree nisi court order, which means you are entitled to apply for a decree absolute to finalise the divorce.

3. Decree absolute

After a decree nisi is granted you must wait six weeks before you can apply for a decree absolute.  The decree absolute is binding and officially ends your marriage.

Valid reasons for divorce

When you file a divorce petition there are five statutory ways of proving that the breakdown in the relationship is irretrievable and that you are entitled to a decree of divorce:

  • Adultery – your spouse had sex with someone else of the opposite sex.
  • Unreasonable behaviour – this may include domestic violence or abuse (including insults and threats), drunkenness or drug use and refusing to pay for housekeeping.
  • Desertion – if your spouse left you to end the relationship against your wishes, without a valid reason, within the previous two and a half years and has been gone for over two years. You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to six months during this period.
  • Living apart for more than two years – you have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to end the marriage.
  • Living apart for more than five years – even if your spouse doesn’t agree to end the marriage, if you have lived apart for more than five years the court will usually grant you a divorce.

Responding to a divorce petition

If your husband or wife has filed for a divorce, you will receive a ‘divorce petition’ from the court along with a notice of proceedings form and an acknowledgement of service form. Our divorce lawyers can advise you on your full range of options and offer you strategic advice on what to do next.

Civil partnership dissolution

The process and legal requirements for the dissolution of a civil partnership are exactly the same as for a divorce. A civil partnership must have existed for at least a year, the party who initiates the dissolution must provide proof of an irretrievable breakdown based on one or more of the accepted grounds, and financial settlements for the dissolution of civil partnerships are determined in the same way as they are in divorce proceedings.

The only exception is adultery, a centuries-old legal term that refers specifically to heterosexual sex and is therefore not accepted as grounds for dissolving a civil partnership or same-sex marriage.

Cost options

Everyone’s situation is different and the costs involved will depend on your particular circumstances. At Gaby Hardwicke it is our policy to discuss the various options and likely costs with each of our clients at the very outset. If you do instruct us, we will endeavour to keep the costs of your matter as transparent as possible and keep you informed of any likely changes to our original estimate, which means you remain in control of the process throughout. Find out more about costs and your First Consultation.


Our policy is to explore all possible avenues when dealing with divorce and relationship breakdown. Dispute resolution (DR) is an amicable alternative that can replace expensive, often hostile court proceedings with open, honest discussion, negotiation and agreement.

At Gaby Hardwicke we offer a type of DR called collaborative law. Our family lawyers can help you decide if either service is right for you.

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To discuss how we can help you email or call one of our offices:

Eastbourne: 01323 435900

Hailsham: 01323 449552

Bexhill: 01424 735000

Hastings: 01424 457500